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Russell Tribunal

The Russell Tribunal, also known as the International War Crimes Tribunal or Russell-Sartre Tribunal, was a public body organized by British philosopher Bertrand Russell and hosted by French philosopher and playwright Jean-Paul Sartre. Along with Ken Coates, Ralph Schoenman, 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:

â 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. â

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

The formation of this investigative body immediately followed the 1966 publication of Russell's book, War Crimes in Vietnam. The tribunal was constituted in November 1966, and was conducted in two sessions in 1967, in Stockholm, Sweden and Copenhagen, Denmark. It was largely ignored in the United States, where many considered it an ineffectual, biased show trial.

Contents

[edit] Composition and origin

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 organizations. 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.

Of considerable interest during the tribunal hearings was the North Vietnamese response to allegations of atrocity contained in the best-selling book Deliver Us From Evil. Published in 1956, this book presented the experience of U.S. Navy physician Thomas Anthony Dooley during Operation Passage to Freedom, in which approximately 90,000 Vietnamese Christians were relocated from North to South Vietnam. The small book contained many allegations of gross atrocity by the communists against these refugees. One of the more dramatic claims was that the communists drove nails into the heads of Vietnamese Catholic priests, to simulate a "crown of thorns".

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.[2]

It was followed by another Tribunal, know as Russell Tribunal II on Latin America, that held three meetings in Rome (1974), Brussels (1975) and Rome (1976), dealing predominately 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 Peopleâs 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 April 13-16, 1984 to investigate the Armenian Genocide. The Tribunalâs thirty-five member panel included three Nobel Prize winnersâSean MacBride, Adolfo Perez Esquivel and Professor George Waldâ 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.

[edit] Tribunal members

[edit] Aims of the Tribunal

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 characterized 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 cooperate ... 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."

[edit] Conclusions and Verdicts of the Tribunal

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 organized 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.

[edit] Subsequent Tribunals

[edit] Russell Tribunal in Rome on Chile's military coup D'état of 1973

It was a part of the Tribunal Russell II on Latin America [1] which was set up by Professor Lelio Basso (1973) inter. english version.pdf with the aim of investigating alleged 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 M¡rquez, 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 [2].

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

[edit] Russell Tribunal on Iraq

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."[3]

[edit] Russell Tribunal on Palestine

In March of 2009, the Russell Tribunal on Palestine was formed [4]

[edit] Criticisms of the Tribunal

The hearing were widely seen by many as 'kangaroo courts' and received little attention from the mainstream press. Incidents like the Russell Tribunal were described by historian Guenter Lewy as part of a âveritable industry publicizing alleged war crimesâ[5] and anti-war activist Richard Falk described the finding as a âjuridical farceâ.[6]

Staughton Lynd, chairman of the 1965 âMarch on Washingtonâ, was asked by Russell to participate in the tribunal and rejected the invitation. Staughtonâs 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 behavior. Lynd wrote that âin 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.â[7]

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ Watling, John (1970) Bertrand Russell. Oliver & Boyd.
  2. ^ Griffin, Nicholas (July 2002). The Selected Letters of Bertrand Russell: The Public Years, 1914-1970. Routledge. 
  3. ^ de Cauter, Lieven (April 2004). âJacques Derrida: For a future to comeâ. Indymedia. http://archive.indymedia.be/news/2004/04/83123.html. 
  4. ^ Russell Tribunal on Palestine Homepage
  5. ^ Podhoretz, Norman (December 2003). â The Norman Podhoretz Readerâ. Free Press. 
  6. ^ Klinghoffer, Arthur Jay (March 2002). â International Citizens' Tribunalsâ. Palgrave Macmillan. 
  7. ^ Lynd, Staughton (December 1967). âThe War Crimes Tribunal: A Dissentâ. Liberation. 

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