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Language & Human Rights

A nation’s language is a nation's wealth. Regional differences may separate people, and religion may be a private and personal affair, but language binds. It is the unifying force without which a nation cannot exist. Language provides security, the feeling that communication is always possible with the people surrounding you. People have the right to speak the language of their choice, wherever they may be. However, should you find yourself in another country whose language you have yet to master, that safe feeling peels away, giving rise to inconvenience, frustration and, in certain conditions, panic.

Test this. Get yourself arrested in another country.

Fortunately, in theory at least, the 1966 Covenant to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights has provided that "…In the determination of any criminal charges against a person, everyone shall be entitled to the following minimum guarantees, in full equality: (a) To be informed promptly and in detail, in a language which he understands, of the nature and cause of the charges against him; (f) To have the free assistance of an interpreter if he cannot understand or speak the language used in Court.

In Europe, the 1950 Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms also provides such safeguards:

Article 5 (2) Everyone who is arrested shall be informed promptly, in a language which he understands, of the reasons of his arrest and of any charges against him.  Article 6 (3) Everyone charged with a criminal offence has the following minimum rights: (a) to be informed promptly and in detail, in a language which he understands, of the nature and cause of the accusation against him; (e) to have free assistance of an interpreter if he cannot understand or speak the language used in Court.

Note for French visitors: The reforms in French criminal procedure enacted by the Acts of 4 January 1993 and 24 August 1993, provide that a person being held in police custody has the right to confer with a Lawyer as of the 20th hour of custody. (Loi ndeg.93-2 du 4/1/1993, J.O.R.F du 5/1/1993 page 215, DALLOZ 1993 page 134.). In a ruling given on 22 December 1993, the Tribunal de Grande Instance of Aix-en-Provence held that such conferral is an essential formality and that "in the absence of a interpreter when an interpreter is required, the conferral shall be deemed not to have taken place and shall result in the nullification of all the proceedings which have been conducted during police custody" (« L'absence d'un interprète dés lors que sa présence est nécessaire équivaut à l'absence d'entretien, entraînant ainsi la nullité de l'ensemble des actes auxquels il a été procédé durant la garde à vue. »).

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