UN to Punish Interpreter Over Nuke Mistake

September 16, 2010 by  
Filed under Interpretation News

Official misquoted as saying Israel struck nuclear facility Syria denies exists

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations said an interpreter responsible for an erroneous report that Syria has a nuclear facility has been reprimanded and the world body has apologized to Syria’s U.N. Mission.

Earlier this week, Syria denied that one of its representatives told the U.N. General Assembly’s committee that deals with disarmament on Tuesday that Israel had attacked a Syrian nuclear facility. It said the representative was misquoted, demanded a correction, and insisted that “such facilities do not exist in Syria.”

After more than seven hours of investigation Wednesday, U.N. officials agreed the Syrian delegate was misquoted. U.N. associate spokesman Farhan Haq said “There was no use of the word nuclear.”

The unidentified Syrian representative spoke in Arabic and the interpreter who worked from Arabic into French was fairly accurate, but the problem occurred when an interpreter translated the statement into English from French, Haq said.

“Action will be taken against that freelance interpreter to the fullest extent of the U.N. rules and regulations,” Haq said on Thursday, refusing to comment on what the action might be.

But on Friday, he said: “The interpreter who was responsible for the unfortunate mistake has been given a note of reprimand.”

“While it was indeed unfortunate, mistakes can occur, as in any other area of work. The Interpretation Service maintains high standards, and mistakes of this nature occur very rarely,” he said.

Haq also said “an apology has been given to the Syrian Mission regarding the Tuesday interpretation error and accepted by them as an unintended mistake.”

The mistake made headlines in the Middle East and heightened concerns over Damascus’ nuclear ambitions. Those ambitions were under scrutiny following a Sept. 6 Israeli airstrike on an unknown target in northeastern Syria near the border with Turkey. Widespread reports say it may have been a nascent nuclear facility, a claim Syria has denied.

According to the corrected text, the Syrian representative said Israel was the fourth largest exporter “of lethal weapons in the world … (and) violates the airspace of sovereign states and carries out military aggression against them, like what happened on Sept. 6 against my country.”


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