Amnesty International: interpreters play vital role protecting human rights

Amnesty International's Head of interpretation and Internal Language Policy, Patricia Combeaud Bonallack speaks to EUATC's interviewers-at-large, Natalia Fedorenkova and Naomi Bowman, about the vital role interpreters play in the global charity's work.

Q: How has Amnesty International benefitted from interpretation?

A: We are an NGO that fights for human rights worldwide. The main languages we need are English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. Multilingualism is our principle alongside inclusion and diversity. We use a large network of pro-bono interpreters. The network has been developed through strong relationships with universities and international organisations. It is a good opportunity for new graduates, who are looking for experience and something to add to their portfolio. We provide good working conditions and training.

Pictured above: Patricia Combeaud Bonallack

Q: Did you use remote interpreting before the pandemic?

A: We are used to having mainly face-to-face meetings and fly participants and interpreters to the venue. However, about 2-3 years ago we started trying out remote work on Voiceboxer. There were some meetings more suited for online format. So technically wise we were well prepared for the pandemic. We already had an RSI platform and trained interpreters.

Q: What challenges did you face when you had to go online overnight?

A: Remote work is a completely different way of working. However, despite the challenges we managed to fulfil 100 percent of all planned meetings. The technical issues we encountered were the same for everyone – for participants and interpreters alike. We were all in the same boat. So we had to acknowledge that yes, technical glitches happen, we cannot guarantee smooth and flawless experience for everyone at every event. But it is nobody’s fault and we have to live with it.

Q: How many meetings did you have in 2020?

A: We had approx. 80 meetings a year, about 1.5 meetings per week. There is a team of 3 interpreting managers/moderators who monitor the meetings live, who are in charge of recruiting and briefing our interpreters, compiling glossaries, providing materials, moderating the whole thing, tackling technical issues, you name it. The meetings are very different: there are meetings of refugee teams, board meetings, etc.

Q: What does the future hold? Will we see the increase in the number of meetings?

A: When we get to the feasibility of a face-to-face meeting again, I think, we will have less of those and more of remote meetings. Remote format now has proved its value and convenience. The number of small meetings will grow, and they will predominantly be held remotely. When we started to experiment with RSI platforms, we held 7 using an online format. Then we moved to 50/50 onsite/online events. In 2020 we had 100% online for obvious reasons. In future though we are looking forward to resuming face to face meetings we anticipate 30/70 onsite/online ratio. As for 2021, already now, in March, we have over 10000 meetings booked for this year.

EUATC News special correspondents: Natalia Fedorenkova and Naomi Bowman