Russell Tribunal

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The nine-year-old boy DoVan Ngoc exhibits terrible injuries from napalm in Vietnam.

The Russell Tribunal, also known as the International War Crimes Tribunal or Russell-Sartre Tribunal, was a private body organised by British philosopher and Nobel Prize winner Bertrand Russell and hosted by French philosopher and writer Jean-Paul Sartre. Along with Ken Coates, Ralph Schoenman, Julio Cortázar and several others, the tribunal investigated and evaluated American foreign policy and military intervention in Vietnam, following the 1954 defeat of French forces at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu and the establishment of North and South Vietnam.

Bertrand Russell justified the establishment of this body as follows:

If certain acts and violations of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them. We are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.

—Justice Robert H. Jackson, Chief Prosecutor, Nuremberg War Crimes Trials[1]

The tribunal was constituted in November 1966, and was conducted in two sessions in 1967, in Stockholm, Sweden and Roskilde, Denmark. Bertrand Russell's book on the situation in Vietnam, War Crimes in Vietnam, was published in January 1967, and included a postscript describing his call for this investigative body.[2] The tribunal was largely ignored in the United States.

Further tribunals were set up in the following decades on the same model, using the denomination Russell Tribunal. E.g. Russell Tribunal on Latin America focused on human rights violations in dictatorships of Argentina and Brazil (Rome, 1973), on Chile's military coup d'état (Rome, 1974–76), on Human Rights in Psychiatry (Berlin, 2001), on Iraq (Brussels, 2004), and on Palestine (Barcelona, 2009–12). A hearing of the Russell-Sartre Tribunal has been announced in Venice (23 August 2014) on human rights issues in the East Ukraine war.[3]

Composition and origin[edit]

Representatives of 18 countries participated in the two sessions of this tribunal, formally calling itself the International War Crimes Tribunal. The tribunal committee consisted of 25 notable personages, predominantly from leftist peace organisations. Many of these individuals were winners of the Nobel Prize, Medals of Valor and awards of recognition in humanitarian and social fields. There was no direct representation of Vietnam or the United States on this 25 member panel, although a couple of members were American citizens.

More than 30 individuals testified or provided information to this tribunal. Among them were military personnel from the United States, as well as from each of the warring factions in Vietnam. Financing for the Tribunal came from many sources, including a large contribution from the North Vietnamese government after a request made by Russell to Ho Chi Minh.[4]

It was followed by another Tribunal, known as Russell Tribunal II on Latin America, that held three meetings in Rome (1974), Brussels (1975) and Rome again (1976), dealing predominantly with Brazil and Chile.

At the closing session of the Russell Tribunal II the creation of three new institutions was announced: the International Foundation for the Rights and Liberations of Peoples, and the International League for the Rights and Liberations of Peoples, and the Permanent Peoples' Tribunal.

The Permanents People's Tribunal was established in Bologna on 23 June 1979. Between its founding and April 1984, the tribunal pronounced two advisory opinions on Western Sahara and Eritrea and held eight sessions (Argentina, Philippines, El Salvador, Afghanistan I and II, East Timor, Zaire and Guatemala). The latter was concluded in January 1983 in Madrid.

A special hearing was conducted in Paris on 13–16 April 1984 to investigate the Armenian Genocide. The Tribunal's thirty-five member panel included three Nobel Prize winners—Seán MacBride, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel and Professor George Wald— and ten eminent jurist, theologians, academics and political figures. The jury delivered a verdict of guilty to the state of Turkey for the crime of genocide against the Armenian people.

More than three decades later, the Russell Tribunal model was followed by the World Tribunal on Iraq, which was held to make a similar analysis of the Project for the New American Century, the 2003 Invasion of Iraq and subsequent occupation of Iraq, and the links between these.


Tribunal members[edit]

Aims of the Tribunal[edit]

The Tribunal aims were stated as follows:

We constitute ourselves a Tribunal which, even if it has not the power to impose sanctions, will have to answer, amongst others, the following questions:
  1. Has the United States Government (and the Governments of Australia, New Zealand and South Korea) committed acts of aggression according to international law?
  2. Has the American army made use of or experimented with new weapons or weapons forbidden by the laws of war?
  3. Has there been bombardment of targets of a purely civilian character, for example hospitals, schools, sanatoria, dams, etc., and on what scale has this occurred?
  4. Have Vietnamese prisoners been subjected to inhuman treatment forbidden by the laws of war and, in particular, to torture or mutilation? Have there been unjustified reprisals against the civilian population, in particular, execution of hostages?
  5. Have forced labour camps been created, has there been deportation of the population or other acts tending to the extermination of the population and which can be characterised juridically as acts of genocide?
All participants in the war in Southeast Asia are petitioned to attend and present evidence, including Vietnam, Cambodia and the United States, as noted in this excerpt from the Tribunal's description of aims and intent:
"This Tribunal will examine all the evidence that may be placed before it by any source or party. The evidence may be oral, or in the form of documents. No evidence relevant to our purposes will be refused attention. ... The National Liberation Front of South Vietnam and the Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam have assured us of their willingness to co-operate ... The Cambodian Head of State, Prince Sihanouk, has similarly offered to help ... We invite the Government of the United States to present evidence or cause it to be presented ... Our purpose is to establish, without fear or favour, the full truth about this war. We sincerely hope that our efforts will contribute to the world's justice, to the re-establishment of peace and the liberation of oppressed peoples."

Evidence Presented at the Tribunal[edit]

During the First Tribunal Session in Stockholm, testimony and evidence was produced by the following witnesses:

  • Professor Gabriel Kolko, historian, University of Pennsylvania[5]
  • Jean Chesneaux[6]
  • Charles Forniau, US Civil Rights Attorney[7]

Conclusions and Verdicts of the Tribunal[edit]

The Tribunal stated that its conclusions were:

  1. Has the Government of the United States committed acts of aggression against Vietnam under the terms of international law?
    Yes (unanimously).
  2. Has there been, and if so, on what scale, bombardment of purely civilian targets, for example, hospitals, schools, medical establishments, dams, etc?
    Yes (unanimously).

    We find the government and armed forces of the United States are guilty of the deliberate, systematic and large-scale bombardment of civilian targets, including civilian populations, dwellings, villages, dams, dikes, medical establishments, leper colonies, schools, churches, pagodas, historical and cultural monuments. We also find unanimously, with one abstention, that the government of the United States of America is guilty of repeated violations of the sovereignty, neutrality and territorial integrity of Cambodia, that it is guilty of attacks against the civilian population of a certain number of Cambodian towns and villages.

  3. Have the governments of Australia, New Zealand and South Korea been accomplices of the United States in the aggression against Vietnam in violation of international law?
    Yes (unanimously).

    The question also arises as to whether or not the governments of Thailand and other countries have become accomplices to acts of aggression or other crimes against Vietnam and its populations. We have not been able to study this question during the present session. We intend to examine at the next session legal aspects of the problem and to seek proofs of any incriminating facts.

  4. Is the Government of Thailand guilty of complicity in the aggression committed by the United States Government against Vietnam?
    Yes (unanimously).
  5. Is the Government of the Philippines guilty of complicity in the aggression committed by the United States Government against Vietnam?
    Yes (unanimously).
  6. Is the Government of Japan guilty of complicity in the aggression committed by the United States Government against Vietnam?
    Yes, (by 8 Votes to 3).

    The three Tribunal members who voted against agree that the Japanese Government gives considerable aid to the Government of the United States, but do not agree on its complicity in the crime of aggression.

  7. Has the United States Government committed aggression against the people of Laos, according to the definition provided by international law?
    Yes (unanimously).
  8. Have the armed forces of the United States used or experimented with weapons prohibited by the laws of war?
    Yes (unanimously).
  9. Have prisoners of war captured by the armed forces of the United States been subjected to treatment prohibited by the laws of war?
    Yes (unanimously).
  10. Have the armed forces of the United States subjected the civilian population to inhuman treatment prohibited by international law?
    Yes (unanimously).
  11. Is the United States Government guilty of genocide against the people of Vietnam?
    Yes (unanimously).

Prompted in part by the My Lai Massacre, in 1969 the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation organised Citizens Commissions of Inquiry (CCI) to hold hearings intended to document testimony of war crimes in Indochina. These hearings were held in several American cities, and would eventually form the foundation of two national investigations: the National Veterans Inquiry sponsored by the CCI, and the Winter Soldier Investigation sponsored by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

Subsequent Tribunals[edit]

1973: On Latin America[edit]

1974–76: On Chile's military coup d'état (Rome)[edit]

It was a part of the Tribunal Russell II on Latin America[8] which was set up by Professor Lelio Basso (1973) inter. english version.pdf with the aim of investigating violations of the Human Rights mainly at the time in Brazil, Chile and Argentina. The Rome sessions of 1974 became however more concentrated on issues around allegations of human rights violations by the Junta Militar presided by General Augusto Pinochet in Chile and also dealt on the situation in Brazil. Secretary of the Russell Tribunal in Rome was Linda Bimbi. In the Scientific Secretariat of the Russell Tribunal in Rome (presided by Linda Bimbi) participated in 1974 among other writer Gabriel García Márquez, historian Vladimir Dedijer, and Professor Marcello Ferrada-Noli, which also left a public testimony at the Tribunal in his condition of former prisoner at the Quiriquina Island Prisoners Camp in Chile. Part of the testimony was reproduced in a scientific publication of 1998.[9]

Other sessions of the Tribunal Russell II on Latin America ensued in Brussels (1975) and again in Rome 1976.

2001: On Human Rights in Psychiatry (Berlin)[edit]

In 2001, Thomas Szasz and others took part in a Russell Tribunal on Human Rights in Psychiatry held in Berlin between 30 June and 2 July.[10] The Tribunal brought in the two following verdicts: the majority verdict claimed that there was "serious abuse of human rights in psychiatry" and that psychiatry was "guilty of the combination of force and unaccountability"; the minority verdict, signed by the Israeli Law Professor Alon Harel and Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho, called for "public critical examination of the role of psychiatry."[10]

2004: On Iraq (Brussels)[edit]

In 2004 the "BRussells Tribunal" took place in Brussels as a continuation of the tradition of the Russell Tribunal as part of the World Tribunal on Iraq. Philosopher Jacques Derrida praised this event, stating that "to resuscitate the tradition of a Russell Tribunal is symbolically an important and necessary thing to do today."[11]

2009–2012: On Palestine (Barcelona, London, Cape Town, New York)[edit]

The Russell Tribunal on Palestine (RToP) was created in March 2009.[citation needed]

In April 2011, the association converted to a non-profit organisation, with legal status in Brussels, by Pierre Galand (fr), Jacques Michiels, Jacques Debatty, Nadia Farkh, Henri Eisendrath and Roseline Sonet.[12] The former non-elected PS senator, Pierre Galand, was appointed president of the association.

The first session of the Tribunal took place in Barcelona in March 2010[13] This session's objective was to consider the complicities and omissions of the European Union and its member states in the Palestinian-Israel conflict.[13]

The second international session of the RToP took place in London in November 2010. It examined international corporate issues in Israel and human rights law.[13]

The third international session of the RToP took place in Cape Town in November 2011. It asked the question: “Are Israeli practices against the Palestinian people in breach of the prohibition on apartheid under international law?"[13]

Pierre Galand pointed out that the Cape Town session of the tribunal had a budget of €190,000; €100,000 was donated by Editions Indigene, the publisher of the book Time for an outrage.[14] In addition, more than €15,000 was raised at a 24 September 2011 fundraising event by the Belgian support committee of the Russell Tribunal.[15] The Caipirinha Foundation lists the RToP as a grant receiver, but does not disclose the amount or the year of its grant.[16]

After the Cape Town session, Israeli MK Otniel Schneller filed a complaint with the Knesset's Ethics Committee against MK Hanin Zoabi, who testified at the Tribunal that "Israel is an apartheid state".[17]

A group of Jewish South Africans protested against the court, and the organiser of the protest called it a "Kangaroo Court."[18]

A fourth international session of the RToP took place in New York in October 2012.[19]

Criticisms of the Tribunals[edit]

Incidents like the Russell Tribunal were described by historian Guenter Lewy as part of a "veritable industry publicizing alleged war crimes"[20]

Staughton Lynd, chairman of the 1965 "March on Washington", was asked by Russell to participate in the tribunal and rejected the invitation. Lynd's objections and criticism of the Tribunal were based on the fact that Russell planned to investigate only non-North Vietnamese and National Liberation Front conduct, sheltering Hanoi from any criticism for their behaviour. Lynd wrote that "in conversation with the emissary who proffered the invitation, I urged that the alleged war crimes of any party to the conflict should come before the Tribunal. After all, I argued, a "crime" is an action that is wrong no matter who does it. Pressing my case, I asked, "What if it were shown that the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam tortures unarmed prisoners?" The answer, as I understood it, was, "Anything is justified that drives the imperialist aggressor into the sea." I declined the invitation to be a member of the Tribunal."[21]

David Horowitz, who was then a member of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation, also said that the Russell Tribunal never held any intention of investigating alleged Communist atrocities. In his memoirs, Horowitz described overhearing Jean-Paul Sartre insist that the North Vietnamese and National Liberation Front were, by definition, incapable of committing war crimes. "I refuse to place," said Sartre, "in the same category the actions of an organization of poor peasants... and those of an immense army backed by a highly organized country."[22] Horowitz's position does not address the fact that Sartre believed the US was engaged in a genocidal war in Vietnam.[23]

For example, John Gerassi was an investigator for the Tribunal and documented that the United States was bombing hospitals, schools and other civilian targets in Vietnam. He offers first hand and documentary evidence about US war crimes in contrast to the claims of Lewy. His book provides many details of US atrocities and shows the larger motivation for the Tribunal, i.e. to expose war crimes, not to create a show trial in contrast to the claims of Podhoretz and Horowitz.[24]

Judge Richard Goldstone, writing in The New York Times in October 2011, said of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine that "It is not a 'tribunal.' The 'evidence' is going to be one-sided and the members of the 'jury' are critics whose harsh views of Israel are well known. In Israel, there is no apartheid. Nothing there comes close to the definition of apartheid under the 1998 Rome Statute."[25]

South African journalist and human rights activist Benjamin Pogrund, now living in Israel, described the Cape Town Session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine as "It's theatre: the actors know their parts and the result is known before they start. Israel is to be dragged into the mud."[26]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Watling, John (1970) Bertrand Russell. Oliver & Boyd.
  2. ^ B. Russell, "War Crimes in Vietnam". Ed. Monthly Review, Jan 1967. ISBN 978-0-85345-058-0
  3. ^ The event has been called upon by the organization Independent Venice [1] (in Russian)
  4. ^ Griffin, Nicholas (July 2002). The Selected Letters of Bertrand Russell: The Public Years, 1914–1970. Routledge. 
  5. ^ Duffett, James (1968). Against the Crime of Silence: Proceedings of the Russell International War Crimes Tribunal. New York: O'hare Books. p. 58. 
  6. ^ Duffett, James (1968). Against the Crime of Silence: Proceedings of the Russell International War Crimes Tribunal. New York: O'hare Books. p. 70. 
  7. ^ Duffett, James (1968). Against the Crime of Silence: Proceedings of the Russell International War Crimes Tribunal. New York: O'hare Books. p. 79. 
  8. ^ Postado por Almir Cezar Filho. "Theotonio dos Santos – Site Oficial: Lelio Basso e a América Latina". Theotoniodossantos.blogspot.com. Retrieved 18 February 2013. 
  9. ^ "Suicidal Behavior After Severe Trauma. Part 2: The Association Between Methods of Torture and of Suicidal Ideation in Posttraumatic Stress Disotrder – Springer". Springerlink.com. 1 January 1998. Retrieved 18 February 2013. 
  10. ^ a b Parker, Ian (2001). "Russell Tribunal on Human rights in Psychiatry & "Geist Gegen Genes", June 30 – July 2, 2001, Berlin". Psychology in Society 27: 120–122. ISSN 1015-6046. 
  11. ^ de Cauter, Lieven (April 2004). Jacques Derrida: For a future to come. Indymedia. 
  12. ^ "Official but unsigned document" (PDF). Retrieved 18 February 2013. 
  13. ^ a b c d "Russell Tribunal on Palestine website". Retrieved 30 December 2011. 
  14. ^ "Rencontre-débat autour du Tribunal Russell sur la Palestine" (PDF). Retrieved 18 February 2013. 
  15. ^ "Fundraiser by the Belgian support committee". Russelltribunalonpalestine.com. Retrieved 18 February 2013. 
  16. ^ "Groups We Support". Caipirinhafoundation.org. Retrieved 18 February 2013. 
  17. ^ "MK Schneller files complaint against MK Zoabi". Ynetnews.com. 20 June 1995. Retrieved 18 February 2013. 
  18. ^ Israel slammed at Russell Tribunal
  19. ^ "NEW YORK SESSION – October 6 – 7 2012". Russelltribunalonpalestine.com. Retrieved 18 February 2013. 
  20. ^ Podhoretz, Norman (December 2003). The Norman Podhoretz Reader. Free Press. 
  21. ^ Lynd, Staughton (December 1967). "The War Crimes Tribunal: A Dissent". Liberation. 
  22. ^ David Horowitz, Radical Son: A Generational Odyssey, page 149.
  23. ^ Jean-Paul Sartre, "On Genocide", November 1967
  24. ^ Gerassi, John (1968) North Vietnam: A Documentary, London : Allen & Unwin.
  25. ^ Israel and the Apartheid Slander RICHARD J. GOLDSTONE. New York Times, 31 October 2011
  26. ^ Benjamin Pogrund (30 October 2011). "Lies Told About Israel are Beyond Belief". Timeslive.co.za. Retrieved 18 February 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Against The Crime of Silence: Proceedings of The Russell International War Crimes Tribunal, edited by J. Duffett, O’Hare Books, New York, 1968.
  • Radical Son: A Generational Odyssey, by David Horowitz, Free Press, New York, 1997.
  • War Crimes in Vietnam, by Bertrand Russell, 1967, see Postscript.
  • North Vietnam: A Documentary, by John Gerassi, Allen & Unwin, London, 1968.

Films[edit]

  • 2003 – Russelltribunalen. Directed by Staffan Lamm.

External links[edit]