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contribution 28 - MPATSWENUMUGABO Alphonse

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My name is Alphonse Mpatswenumugabo. Before I joined the ICTR, I used to work with the newspaper Jeune Afrique and I travelled widely.

So I’m going to dwell on the role of the interpreter in trials before the ICTR. I am going to discuss specifically the Kinyarwanda interpretation booth.

Let me start off with recruitment. When the ICTR opened its doors, there were initially French and English interpreters, but then immediately it was realised that there was a need for persons speaking Kinyarwanda, given the genocide. Otherwise, all the officials in Rwanda were either killed or had fled the country. And, therefore, there was virtually no translator/interpreter in Rwanda. So the recruitment was done swiftly.

To address the issue, namely, that 90 per cent of witnesses spoke Kinyarwanda, hence there was a need to set up a training unit. And since we are taking stock, the Kinyarwanda unit would like to thank the Registrar Adama Dieng, because that unit was established in 2003 to train Kinyarwanda translators and interpreters.

First of all, there was a competitive exam, and after, successful candidates would go to the ICTR to spend seven months to learn the skills of the trade of translator/interpreter, because translators/interpreters are officers of the court in international judicial systems.

As you are aware, Article 31 of the Statute states that the working languages of the Tribunal shall be English and French. Kinyarwanda is there. It is a rare language, but that is the private language, and that is what that is the ground on which I will discuss the specific difficulties encountered by the Kinyarwanda booth. I tend to be on the other side because my colleagues in the French and English booth said the other speakers have been moving at the speed of light. I know it is a weakness. I am aware that we have to move slowly. President Byron echoed that point. But, unfortunately, I have to move counter to the interests of my colleagues.

The first challenge facing the Kinyarwanda interpreter is documentation. Every interpreter needs proper documentation collected to the subject matter at hand. At the ICTR our Bible are the basic texts which you find here. So far, in July, these instruments have not been translated into Kinyarwanda because the unit is understaffed and overwhelmed. It is not because the head of that unit was unwilling to have it translated, but it is because we are in high demand. We have witness statements. We have motions. So we have to deal with matters of you are urgency and priority.

During proceedings when the parties refer to that document, we are in difficulty because we do not have a working basis. The English and French interpreters will refer to Article 32, which is not an easy task for the Kinyarwanda interpreter.

The second aspect in relation to documentation is the lack of a terminological database, and a certified one for that matter. A witness in speaking in his testimony will refer to "alibi", which is easy in French and English, but we would translate "alibi" in two ways. One of the two meanings are accurate, but there is a need to harmonise. And for the purposes of legacy, there is a need to have a certified database. Unfortunately, the matter is still to be resolved.

Another challenge is the use of acronyms. A witness will come and in his testimony say, "we leave our locality and went to ^IGA," which in Kinyarwanda means (Kinyarwanda spoken). A Rwandan interpreter who did not live in Rwanda will believe that is a person. ^IGA in French is CDFP, which is an ongoing centre an ongoing training centre. Other witnesses, especially soldiers, will say "I was a witness of VBL." And when you say, "Witness, can you repeat?" They say, "Are you deaf? I said VBL." Before going to the booth, if you did not receive the text to know that VBL means a light armoured vehicle in English, you would be lost. And yet that is another difficulty.

The other problem which we encounter today is when you go to the ICTR site, you will find only three judgements in Kinyarwanda poorly translated, unrevised. You have the Kambanda judgement, you have Nchamihigo judgement, and the Akayesu judgement. That is yet another difficulty. That Tribunal was set up to help the people of Rwanda, and today the government of Rwanda has done its level best in investing in ICTs, especially on the Internet, and people in Rwanda, when they browse the Internet would not be able to find a document to use. As you are aware, resolution 955 of 8th November 1994, setting up that Tribunal was to contribute to the process of national reconciliation. And since 90 per cent of the people of Rwanda speak only Kinyarwanda, they lack a reference or a blueprint.

Another constraint facing the Kinyarwanda booth is a technical one, which is linked to the fact that the Kinyarwanda booth is either connected to the English booth or to the French booth. But that is not a specialty or a peculiarity of the ICTR. In countries where you have rare and minority languages you have to use other channels.

What happens when the colleague in the French booth stops his interpretation and forgets to release the channel? Everybody starts looking at the Kinyarwanda booth, thinking he is dead. But you are unable to perform because your channel is clogged, and that is additional stress. You cannot fathom the stress which my colleagues speaking up there are going through. We are here, as I said, and I might be going swiftly, which flouts the ethics of interpretation.

So the Kinyarwanda booth is connected, being connected, rather, to the French and English booths is a source of stress.

I forgot to state that prior to 2003, the Kinyarwanda interpreter sat next to the witness, and the witness would generally consider the interpreter as an enemy who is there to disturb him, especially during cross examination, because matters become difficult. When the witness sees you sitting next to him, being Rwandan, he believes you are a thorn in his flesh. He fails to understand that you are there to help him. You are doing your job, and he takes you as an enemy, a Tutsi or a Hutu, and the ethnic issue is whipped up again. And so the witness would tend to say, "This is a thorn to my flesh. This might be a Hutu. This might be a Tutsi." And this is a challenge facing the Kinyarwanda booth. But thank God since 2003 that problem has been resolved. We have an independent booth for Kinyarwanda interpreters, and we are not bound to sit next to the witness.

Another challenge we have to address is the quality of the performance. The witness generally uses coded language. He does not clearly want to respond to the question put to him by also for the Prosecution and Defence counsel. And there we are really in trouble. And that is frequent, especially during cross examination when after the examination in chief, the witness is a nice guy because the party calling that witness has prepared the witness. But when the questions in cross examination come to him, he believes he is being indicted and he becomes aggressive. And when he becomes aggressive, our work becomes pretty difficult.

And I would say the experts sitting here, like Claudine Vidal, who have been working on Rwanda, will undertake some research to explain why witnesses are unwilling to speak the truth. Is it because they are dodging questions, questions which relate to their person?

You know, among the witnesses you have women who have been raped, and sometimes they are unwilling to say it. So she would conceal that truth. But, as interpreters, it is pretty difficult to interpret innuendos. Sometimes he tries to duck out of a question or to dodge the question in a bid to protect somebody. The witness may be unwilling to speak the whole truth expected of him. He might be telling an untruth. And sometimes in the Kinyarwanda booth we feel that the witness is lying, but it’s not our job. We need to exercise our neutrality. And sometimes the witness tries to hide the part he played in the genocide. These are the questions which we are throwing at the experts to research on. But that further makes our work as interpreters complicated, because it is difficult to delve into the subconscious of a witness who is unwilling to tell the truth, and that leads to stress. It stresses the interpreter because we are expected to be neutral. We have to perform and we have to relay the message from the source language to the target language with all the nuances. Sometimes the Judges, the Prosecutors, the Defence counsels look at us as being remiss in our duty, but when, in fact, the witness is, you know, speaking to himself. And it is difficult to interpret monologues.

We have to ensure the protection of witnesses. We have protected witnesses who take the stand, and in the heat of the action forget that they are under cover and reveal their identities. So sometimes we are duty bound to draw the attention of the President of the Chamber that we have withheld some information to ensure the protection of the witness.

After the booth interpretation, we have teamwork. Our colleagues, that is, the court reporters, come to us for the proper spelling of names. Sometimes they come when we are preparing the next session. And in the circumstances, it is also stressful to help each other. It is a pleasure to receive them, but it is additional work for the Kinyarwanda booth.

I would also like to discuss working relations with the parties, the Defence and the Prosecution. To properly do their work, interpreters need working documents, and often the interpreters are the last to receive any documents, be they speeches, reference documents. The interpreters don’t receive these documents. I don’t know why. Whereas we are there to do our work and assist the parties to the best of our ability. That is another constraint.

I’m being asked to move on fast.

Now, I will just stop there. I will mention trauma. A lot of witnesses who testify before the ICTR have been traumatised by the events that occurred in Rwanda. And since we understand immediately what they are saying, somehow we are affected too. To this day, it is not known to what extent the Kinyarwanda interpreter, as well as the other interpreters, are affected by the trauma of the witnesses because somehow vicariously we feel the hurt of the witness.

So I may conclude on working relations with the parties and to request on behalf of my colleagues that when we are given working documents, it really facilitates our work and facilitates the process for everybody. Thank you.


Thank you very much. I do apologise for shortening your presentation. Maybe it’s because we have a short time to say a lot of things. But I really wanted you to say something because I think the interpretation is something fundamental. And, as you said, almost all the witnesses speak neither French nor English and usually Kinyarwanda. So your contribution is fundamental. And you’ve mentioned in your paper that you were worried about the abolition of certain interpretation posts. You did not actually say so, but you wrote it in your paper.