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Assessing the Existence of the Right to Translation under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

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The right to an interpreter for criminal defendants who do not speak the language of the court is guaranteed in article 14 (3)(f) International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). However, the right to an interpreter is normally understood to only cover oral communications in the courtroom; it generally does not guarantee the translation of written documents or evidence. There is a growing awareness, though, that the translation of such documents may be required for a defendant to receive a truly fair trial. This paper seeks to determine whether a right to translation exists for criminal defendants within the framework of the ICCPR. In addition to examining the ICCPR treaty regime itself, the article also analyzes the jurisprudence surrounding identical treaty language arising from the European Court of Human Rights and both ad hoc international criminal Tribunals. Finally, the article reviews the explicit grant of a right to translation given in the Rome Statute for the ICC and discusses whether this specific language can be taken as both a codification of the international jurisprudence in this area, as well as a clarification of the evolving international legal standard on the right to translation.


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