bullshit, politicians and bureaucrats

So I have started doing translation work for the Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos. When I think “Human Rights” I think NGO/nonprofit/volunteer/advocacy work… the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, Unicef. But I think that’s super “Mercan” of me.

As it turns out, according to several national conventions, in addition to stuff like life and freedom and equality, things like social security and work are also human rights. As it turns out, the Mexican National Human Rights Commission is a governmental agency.

I thought it would be fun, though hard work, to translate for them. It’s a lot of legalese, not surprisingly. I thought initially this had to do with lawyers, but nothing doing. It’s coming from bureaucrats.

Distinguishing the source of BS is important here, because it is related to the reason I got completely reamed for a translation I did yesterday. The key problem with my translation? I cut out all of the redundant crap.

Yeah, yeah, I know, I know, when you’re dealing with law and policy and stuff you have to be precise-verbose/interpretable-vague. But these are not exactly law and policy documents– they hire actual lawyers to translate anything that is legally binding. These are “recommendations,” basically correspondence that is sent to Mexican authoritative bodies presumed guilty of violating human rights. The recommendations also get published on the CNDH’s freaking webpage… in theory you want the public to be able to understand them, no?

My editor said it to me best, I think unconsciously, that I have to think like a politician when I am doing these documents. This made me realize, the people writing these human rights recommendations are politicians.

Silly of me to think otherwise, I guess, that “politician” and “bureaucrat” were mutually exclusive.

“You guys, don’t you want your political infighting to read clearly?!”

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3 responses to “bullshit, politicians and bureaucrats

  1. It’s funny how sometimes the Spanish language in Mexico works so hard at *not* saying anything. Have you listened to the opening remarks of any political address? The politician spends nine million years thanking everyone for coming and then says a lot of fluffy things about how grateful he is that everyone is here. English is a much more direct language. We [‘mercans] are on a timetable. We just want to get it done and get on to the next thing. Here, there seems to be much more of a system of following a polite protocol and not offending anyone by being too direct.

  2. I’m not quite sure it has to do with the English language, I’m pretty sure it’s got to do with the field. You’re probably just used to, and have been educated to write clearly and directly. I mean, with the human rights ‘recommendations’ which can lead to more legally binding policies – there has to be vaguness written in so that people can argue their way out of saying what they stated was wrong should it come under scrutiny. Did you check out similar kinds of documents that are written in English?

    I wish I had a better example, but I think even ‘open-ended working group’ has something to say about non-definitive the field is: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/development/right/WG_Right_to_Development.htm

    also, geez. that stuff can be a real snooze, i commend you for trying to make it more palpable

    • I agree with both of you– I know being direct definitely seems to dar pena to a lot of people I have met, although awesomely they don’t seem to mind at all when I am direct with them. Maybe they are just not telling me though, ha.

      With this political stuff– I think Laura you’re definitely right that it’s symptomatic of the field. Your advice that it has a practical reason (laying groundwork for potential legislation) actually makes me feel a lot better about what I was doing. I had concluded simply that the people writing it were douchebags.

      There is still a lot of douchery involved, but if they have a purpose then that helps me have purpose.

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