A Matter of Balance and State Sovereignty – DGACM’s meetings on languages

5 Sep

Within the framework of its mandate from the General Assembly, DGACM (Department for General Assembly and Conference Management) held its annual round of language-specific informational meetings with Member States last week.  This meeting was focused on the quality of multiple language and conference services provided during the past year in the six official languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish).

The upcoming summary of the 2013 meetings might well read very similarly to the one published in 2012, as the obstacles and problems discussed this past week appeared quite congruent with those from last year.

– As in 2012, it was recommended that the General Assembly should reduce the number of informational meetings from two to one per year.

–  As suggested in 2012, and still highly valid, one delegation proposed to combine the six separate language-specific meetings into one, provided that there was interpretation available. Holding one rather than six different meetings would increase efficiency of tackling the various issues related to language services, and would have a wider overlap in terms of opinion/expert exchange.

–  Overall, an unequal treatment of the six official U.N. languages was stated repeatedly in a number of the meetings.

–  Timing seems to be another permanent issue within the dissemination of multilingual documents within the  U.N. system. Many documents appear to be sent for translation too late, if at all, and therefore are not available when optimally required.

Overall, the importance of making a greater effort to streamline and optimize the language services within the U.N. system were summarized by one speaker thusly, “If only a few delegations have access to all documents within the system, only those delegations can raise their voice in meetings. Therefore it is important to have all the documents available in all six languages at all times. It is a matter of state sovereignty.”

It is also a matter of fairness, impacting the ability of all states to have access to timely, comprehensible documents.  It is equally essential for the press and civil society to have such access.  Translation services are not optional at the United Nations but are essential to the full enfranchisement of all member states and other policy stakeholders.

Lia Petridis Maiello, Media Consultant for GAPW/Journalist for Political Affairs

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