- The Washington Times - Monday, January 28, 2002

Translations galore
The war against terrorism is going to be expensive, all right. Just ask the people in U.N. language services.
As much as a quarter of the world organization's translation resources have been diverted from the usual business of the United Nations to process scores of counterterrorism reports prepared by governments for a special committee of the Security Council.
The highly technical submissions must be translated into the six official languages before they can be publicly released and discussed by the committee.
"This is a huge burden on the [Counter-Terrorism Committee] experts and our hard-pressed Secretariat," said British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock, who is the committee's chairman. "I want to say a special word of thanks for our translation service that has taken on a huge extra burden, given the voluminous material that member states have presented."
That's an understatement.
To date, the organization has received 124 reports on terrorism, ranging from five pages to more than 200 pages. Much of the work is documentation of political, legal, financial and other complex matters not translated easily into Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said that 25 percent of translation resources including manpower, money and machines has been given to the Counter-Terrorism Committee. But those who are doing the work say it is even more daunting than that.
The Security Council, for example, usually accounts for less than 20 percent of translation services. In January, it took up more than 45 percent. And this was during a full calender: Unicef and the U.N. Development Program had executive committee meetings; the committee against discrimination against women was in session; and there was an international conference to look at financing for development.
"None of that could not be documented," said one secretariat source. "We added people, worked extra hours; we put more of it over to the night shift; we have outside contractors," the source said. "The volume was quite unexpected."
The United Nations also has started using remote translation services, farming out documents to duty stations where pages can be translated faster and more cheaply. But because the Counter-Terrorism Committee's reports are considered sensitive, they are processed at U.N. headquarters.
The "nightmare" pace is likely to continue through April, according to council sources. Meanwhile, the rest of the U.N. system keeps holding routine meetings and special sessions, issuing press releases and situation reports, holding press conferences and making speeches most of which has to be transcribed, edited, translated and copied.
One of the shortest reports, according to someone connected to the Counter-Terrorism Committee, was from Namibia, where officials have thrown up their hands and asked for help with most aspects of counterterrorism, intelligence gathering and banking transparency.

EU on the Web
Knowing the travails of the U.N. translators makes even more impressive the new European Union Web site devoted to its U.N. activities.
Visitors to www.europa-eu-un.org can skim through EU position papers and backgrounders in all 11 official languages (Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish).
English is the acknowledged linga franca of international organizations, but frustrated non-anglophones readily challenge this.
"There is a sometimes suffocating predominance of the English language," said Spanish Ambassador Inocencio Arias, introducing the Web site last week. "Even now, I am speaking to you in English."

Kosovo transition
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan last week named a veteran German diplomat and expert on the Balkans to take over the U.N. transitional government in Kosovo the third administrator in three years.
Michael Steiner will have his hands full running the $400-million-a-year operation.
One of his most sensitive tasks will be negotiating between Kosovo's minority Serbs and various Albanian factions, most of which want independence from Belgrade.
The previous administrator, Hans Haekkerup of Denmark, unexpectedly resigned after a year to be with his family
Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]aol.com.

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