The Russell Tribunal on Palestine (RToP) is modelled entirely on the International War Crimes Tribunal (the Russell Tribunal, as it became known) that British aristocrat and philosopher, Sir Bertrand Russell, founded in 1966 to inform and mobilise public opinion against US involvement in the Vietnam War. Russell hoped that the Tribunal would “prevent the crime of silence”. A second Russell Tribunal was convened from 1974 to 1976 in Latin America and focused on human rights violations in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile.
Since 2010, the Russell Tribunal has focused on Israeli war-crimes and third-party complicity in Israeli crimes. A 2011 session in Cape Town found that Israel was guilty of the crime of Apartheid. The Tribunal seeks to give expression to international public opinion by examining Israel’s actions through the medium of a process resembling that of a court of law. Witnesses testify on the illegality of Israel’s conduct before a jury of distinguished persons representing public opinion in many countries.
The Russell Tribunal is not a court of law; it is a tribunal of the people. The Tribunal’s jury actively investigates an accusation to determine whether there is substance to it, before considering whether it merits a trial. International law serves as the legal frame of reference. The examining jury calls witnesses, questions them, and often directs how the investigations should proceed. There is no conviction or enforceable sentence. If satisfied that there may be a case to be answered, the jury draws up an indictment, which then goes to the court of trial. Bertrand Russell believed that the integrity of the members of the Tribunal, the fact that they represented no state power, and the complete openness of the hearings, would ensure the objectivity of the proceedings
The current RToP jury comprises a wide range of legal scholars, United Nations officials, journalists and cultural luminaries, including Queen’s Counsel Michael Mansfield, South African struggle stalwart Ronnie Kasrils, authors and social activists Alice Walker, Vandana Shiva, Angela Davis, former UN Special Rapporteurs John Dugard and Richard Falk, and Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters.
In 2012, Raji Sourani, one of Gaza’s foremost human rights lawyers, was denied a US visa to testify at a session in New York that examined American and UN complicity in Israel’s crimes. Sourani and Gazan film-maker Ashraf Masharawi, both scheduled to testify at the recent emergency session in Gaza, were barred from leaving the Gaza Strip and travelling to Brussels.
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