Courtroom language (1) - Laws in translation

THINGS are getting quieter at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The court, which was established in 1993 to deal with war crimes in the Balkans in the 1990s, has not indicted anyone since 2004. It is closing down its case docket. Its highest-profile indictee, Slobodan Milosevic, died while awaiting trial in 2006. Just three cases out of 161 are up for trial now. The ICTY was the first international criminal court since the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals in the 1940s, and it is now beginning to assess its legacy.

Translating between languages is a hurdle for all of the international courts: the pace of the courtroom can creep, even with simultaneous interpreting. The ICTY is faster than, say, its younger and bigger successor, the International Criminal Court (whose language changes with each case). This is partly because it focuses on one linguistic region. Its purview is mostly limited to three languages—the two working languages of the United Nations, English and French, and what the court terms "BCS": Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian. (For crimes committed in Kosovo and Macedonia, the court temporarily introduced Albanian and Macedonian, but English, French, and BCS form its permanent core.)

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