This chapter attempts to describe the complex roles of interpreters working in conflict zones, the challenges they face in terms of physical security and vicarious trauma, and how those who make use of interpreting services in the field, whether they are humanitarian actors or military personnel, expect services that go beyond facilitating conversations, to include advising military, civilian and international employers about the history, culture, and society of the area, and thus also acting as fixers and liaisons. There is a growing understanding of the interpreter as more than a technical tool to over-

come language barriers: the interpreter as a co-constructor of meaning. This role impacts the ethics of the interaction and our ability to make claims to knowledge based upon it. The ideal interpreter is one that is accurate, faithful to the original, impartial with a high degree of professional integrity and clear: accurate in terms of rendering all the information that has been provided in the original, faithful in terms of rendering the meaning intended by the original speaker, impartial in terms of not siding with any parties engaged in an interpreted scenario and clear in terms of the level of professional skill (see Chapter 20 on ethics). In the field in humanitarian, conflict and post-conflict contexts, however, many factors

complicate the achievability of this ideal. Local interpreters are hardly ever trained to carry out their tasks in a professional manner, although many have acquired good interpreting skills through experience; that, however, does not automatically make them professionals, as one would expect professionals to act with integrity, accountability, ethical behavior and “overall excellence”. Users of field interpreters usually lack understanding of the interpreting profession, and since they are working largely with untrained interpreters, they do not perceive interpreters, and particularly locally recruited interpreters, as professionals. The concepts of neutrality and impartiality feature prominently among core humanitarian

principles, and they are intended to guide the activities of humanitarian agencies. They are based on the Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and Non-Governmental Organizations in Disaster Relief, adopted in 1993 (ICRC 1993) and signed by 492 institutions, and they inform our understanding of an ideal interpretation. However, they are underpinned by an assumption of the non-embeddedness of the field interpreter, who is in fact positioned within the social, political, economic and cultural contexts

in which conflict zone interpretation takes place. As such, neutrality is understood to mean that humanitarian actors must not take sides in hostilities or engage in controversies of a political, racial, religious or ideological nature. Impartiality is defined as the principle of non-discrimination on the basis of nationality, race, gender, religious belief, class or political opinions (OCHA 2010). Humanitarian actors engaging with local populations need to respect humanitarian principles, but also to take into account the positionality of the interpreters through whom they interact with the local population. The presence of a local interpreter may also influence the way parties interact in the field (Mancini-Griffoli and Picot 2004:132). Language barriers have become a major obstacle to humanitarian relief at many levels, especially as expectations of engagement of humanitarian staff with local communities grow. In fact, it has become fashionable to talk about remote management of operations in high-risk environments where national partners deliver while internationals manage from afar. As is stated in the Principles of Partnership (Global Humanitarian Platform 2007), “whenever possible, humanitarian organizations should strive to make [local partners] an integral part in emergency response. Language and cultural barriers must be overcome.” A coherent approach to delivery of humanitarian aid in multilingual and multicultural environments is thus needed. The most appropriate, sustainable and lasting solutions are found when humanitarian actors engage not only with those who speak the language of aid, most often English, but with all members of the societies in conflict, irrespective of their ability to understand or speak it (Anderson, Brown and Jean 2012).