We need a People’s Tribunal on Palestine and Gaza

Mar 28, 2024
Concept illustration of a Palestine flag which is stinged by the israel star as a symbol of the occupation of territories and the harm to the Palestinian people. This concept represents the conflict between the two countries.

As the UN Security Council finally overcomes the US’ calculated protection of Israel’s aggression in order to pass a ceasefire resolution in Gaza; the failure of the UN, the US and western media to give us the full and true story of the Palestinian tragedy has become clear. We cannot rely on compromised bodies such as the International Criminal Court and the media to hold those responsible to account. We need a People’s Tribunal that is capable of investigating possible war crimes and genocide in Gaza.

There is precedent for such a Tribunal.

An International War Crimes Tribunal for Vietnam was convened in 1965/6 by the philosopher Bertrand Russell. Its goal was to investigate US crimes in Vietnam.

We need a similar Peoples Tribunal today to investigate possible war crimes and genocide in Gaza.

Recently Richard Falk, a former Special Rapporteur for the UN on Israeli violations of human rights, proposed the following:

“An initiative worth carefully considering would be timely establishment of a People’s Tribunal on the Question of Genocide initiated by global persons of conscience. Such tribunals were established in relation to many issues that the formal governance structures failed to address in satisfactory ways. Important examples are the Russell Tribunal convened in 1965-66 to assess legal responsibilities of the U.S. in the Vietnam War and the Iraq War Tribunal of 2005 in response to the U.S. and U.K. attack and occupation of Iraq commencing in 2003.

Such a tribunal on Gaza could clarify and document what happened on and subsequently to October 7. By taking testimony of witnesses, it could provide an opportunity for the people of the world to speak and to feel represented in ways that governments and international procedures are unable to given their entanglement with geopolitical hegemony in relation to international criminal law and structures of global governance.”

The following are extracts from Wikipedia on the Russell Tribunal

“The Russell Tribunal, also known as the International War Crimes Tribunal, Russell–Sartre Tribunal, or Stockholm Tribunal, was a private People’s Tribunal organised in 1966 by Bertrand Russell, British philosopher and Nobel Prize winner, and hosted by French philosopher and writer Jean-Paul Sartre, along with Simone de Beauvoir, Vladimir Dedijer, Ralph Schoenman, Isaac Deutscher, Günther Anders and several others. The tribunal investigated and evaluated American foreign policy and military intervention in 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

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 armed confrontations underway in Vietnam, War Crimes in Vietnam, was published in January 1967. His postscript called for establishing this investigative body. The findings of the tribunal were largely ignored in the United States.

Further tribunals were also held on various other issues, including psychiatryhuman rights, and the Israel-Palestine conflict and, most recently, on the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

Composition and origin

Representatives of 18 countries participated in the tribunal’s two sessions. The tribunal committee, which called itself the International War Crimes Tribunal, consisted of 25 notable individuals, predominantly from leftist peace organisations, including winners of the Nobel Prize, Medals of Valour, and awards of recognition in humanitarian and social fields. Neither Vietnam nor the United States was directly represented by any individual on the 25-member panel, although a couple of members were American citizens.

More than 30 people, including military personnel from the United States, and both of the warring factions in Vietnam, gave evidence to the tribunal. Financing for the Tribunal included a large contribution from the North Vietnamese government after a request made by Russell to Ho Chi Minh.

Conclusions and verdicts

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).

Verdict 11: Genocide

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. His book provides many details of US atrocities and shows the larger motivation for the Tribunal on the accusation of genocide rests from the clear need to expose documented atrocities against civilians rather than an actual ongoing genocide.

Jean-Paul Sartre bases his argument for genocide on several reasons, but part of it rests on statements and declarations from US leaders and intention rather than conduct. “In particular, we must try to understand whether there is an intention of genocide in the war that the American government is fighting against Vietnam. Article 2 of the Convention of 1948 defines genocide on the basis of intention.” And that “Recently, Dean Rusk has declared: ‘We are defending ourselves … It is the United States that is in danger in Saigon. This means that their first aim is military: it is to encircle Communist China, the major obstacle to their expansionism. Thus, they will not let south-east Asia escape. America has put men in power in Thailand, it controls part of Laos and threatens to invade Cambodia. But these conquests will be useless if the US has to face a free Vietnam with thirty-one million united people.” Furthermore that “At this point in our discussion, three facts emerge: (1) the US government wants a base and an example; (2) this can be achieved, without any greater obstacle than the resistance of the Vietnamese people themselves, by liquidating an entire people and establishing a Pax Americana on a Vietnamese desert; (3) to attain the second, the US must achieve, at least partially, this extermination.”

More than three decades later, the Russell Tribunal model was followed by several other Tribunals, including on Palestine.

What can we do when most of our governments and much of our media are averting their eyes from the Gaza tragedy, just as the world averted its eyes from the Holocaust inflicted on the Jews in Europe?

Are there internationally known and respected persons who could establish such a Peoples Tribunal – or as Richard Falk called them, ‘global persons of conscience’? A modern Desmond Tutu!

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