In a historic move to recognize the role of translation in international discourse and the promotion of human rights, on May 24th, the United Nations approved Resolution A/71/L.68, declaring September 30th as the International Translation Day.
The resolution was approved without a vote by the UN Department for General Assembly and Conference Management. It was sponsored by Belarus, and 10 other nations are mentioned on the resolution. Belarus’s Foreign Ministry also acknowledged the support of 16 additional countries who co-sponsored the resolution.
September 30th has been promoted as Translation Day by the International Federation of Translators since 1953. The date was chosen in honor of the Catholic Feast of St. Jerome, the Bible translator and patron saint of translation.
The Underappreciated Role of Language in Human Society
Skeptics may wonder why the UN chose to focus on the subject of translation when there are so many other severe problems in the world that the UN must address. According to a report by Eden Estope for Slator, Permanent Representative of Belarus Andrei Dapkiunas raised that question in his opening presentation: “Is this the time for the General Assembly of the United Nations to discuss translation [when] tens and thousands of people continue to die from war, hunger, and sickness? How appropriate an agenda item is language and translations when the world is seeking a sustainable global paradigm for security, balanced development, and respect for human rights, which is difficult?”
He responded: “This resolution is about the underappreciated role of language in the life of our human society. We feel that this deserves further discussion, perhaps legal protection of those translators working in conflict zones and in situations of higher risks.”
Translation “Brings Nations Together”
Resolution A/71/L.68, titled “The role of professional translation in connecting nations and fostering peace, understanding and development”, states that language is “a fusion of the common and the unique” and “reflects the idea of the strength of a united world, which stems from its diversity.” It further states that “a transposition of a literary or scientific work, including technical work, from one language into another language, professional translation, including translation proper, interpretation and terminology, is indispensable to preserving clarity, a positive climate and productiveness in international public discourse and interpersonal communication.”
According to the resolution, adoption of an official Translation Day serves to affirm “that professional translation, as a trade and an art, plays an important role in upholding the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, brings nations together, facilitating dialogue, understanding and cooperation, contributing to development and strengthening world peace and security.”
Responses from Translation Organizations
The International Federation of Translators (FIT) celebrated the adoption of the resolution, stating on their blog: “This resolution… enshrines and celebrates the importance and the irreplaceability of professional translation in international human endeavours. It highlights the critical need for training the next generation of professional translators, interpreters and terminologists to meet this ever increasing demand as international interaction, cooperation and collaboration continue to grow… Both FIT and the UN are about bringing people together.”
According to Estope’s report for Slator, Gustavo Meza-Cuadra, Peru’s Permanent Representative to the UN spoke at the UN General Assembly on behalf of the Group of Friends of Spanish, emphasizing the importance of recruiting professional translators and interpreters according to the highest international standards.