JEAIL > Volume 3(2); 2010 > Issue Focus
Research Paper
Published online: November 30, 2010

The Right of Ethnic Minorities to Free Interpretation in Criminal Proceedings under International Law: With Special Reference to China

Lijiang Zhu
China University of Political Science and Law, China
Faculty of International Law, CUPL, No.25, Xitucheng Road, Haidian District, Beijing, China.
Corresponding Author:

ⓒ Copyright YIJUN Institute of International Law
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The right to free interpretation in criminal proceedings is one of the important components of the right to fair trial in international law. It applies to everyone within the territory and jurisdiction of the State, including those ethnic minorities who speak and write different languages from the ethnic majority. The international human rights treaty bodies and regional human rights courts expanded the scope of this right and imposed more obligations upon the State parties through the general comments and jurisprudences. This right serves to the interest of the right to fair trial in criminal proceedings. Under Chinese law, there might be two or more languages used in judicial proceedings in ethnic autonomous areas. In the case that one specific language is designated as the language to prosecute and try a specific criminal case, the Chinese judicial organs must provide interpretation and translation to the participant who is not familiar with that specific language. Therefore the right to free interpretation is implied in Chinese law and preserves the constitutional principle of equality to all ethnicities and the right to fair trial. The problem, however, is that such a right is not well implemented in Chinese judicial practice. Several practices are inconsistent with the minimum standards developed by the jurisprudence of the international human rights treaty bodies. It is suggested that China establish the regulations and judicial interpretations that comply with international minimum standards, and provide a robust constitutional review mechanism or national human rights institution to remedy the victims for violations of this right.

Keywords : Ethnic Minorities, Right to Free Interpretation, Fair Trial, ICCPR, ECHR, Chinese Criminal Procedure

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