On May 12, 2008 Eric Camayd-Freixas interpreted at hearings of almost 400 illegal immigrants who were arrested in a raid at a meatplant in Potsville. After the hearings he decided to breach his professional secrecy and circulated a 14-page long account of the hearings in which he points out all the irregularities that were committed by the authorities. You can read more about this here. I have always admired so called whistle blowers. It is a very delicate and difficult task to stand up and point out irregularities if you are part of an organisation or system which the interpreter in this case definitely was. However, an interpreter’s professional secrecy is absolutely crucial to the profession. In an ideal world we would have debriefing sessions for interpreters. That would create a possibility for interpreters to share their experiences without breaking the professional secrecy and in extreme cases like the one of Mr. Camayd-Freixas he would not be left alone with the very important decision he had to take, i.e. denouncing authorities. Sometimes we end up in difficult situation due to agencies, I have for instance interpreted a paedophilia case eight-months-pregnant, sometimes missions that seemed totally straight forward end up in a very complicated situation, like when the defence lawyer decided to make the interpreter look like an ignorant in order to make the witness less credible (the defence lawyer actually apologized at the end of the day). We carry all sorts of similar experiences that we cannot share in order not to breach our professional secrecy.
In South Africa after apartheid a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established. The aim of the TRC was that everyone who had committed a crime during apartheid was free to witness in front of the TRC and ask for pardon. The witness was recorded and the person then granted pardon. People who were directly or indirectly victims were often present at the hearings and everything was interpreted simultaneously into the 13 official South African languages. This process was very fruitful for the restarting of South Africa, but the ones who suffered very much during this process were the interpreters. It became so difficult for them to bear all these dreadful stories that a special debriefing program had to be organised. “I am the filter that all pain is sifted through” said one of the interpreters in for the TRC. Their work has become a theatre performance that has been touring world wide. Should you come across it I strongly recommend that you see it. You can explore all this at The Truth in Translation Project.