Russel Tribunal on Palestine
22 December 2009,
The Russell Tribunal on Palestine has held a meeting in Brussels to prepare for its first session, to be held in Barcelona from 1 to 3 March 2010. In the tradition of the preceding Russell Tribunals, first on Vietnam (launched by Lord Bertrand Russell in 1966) and then on Latin America, this initiative is an authentic peoples’ tribunal aimed at generating public awareness of the serious and recurrent violations of human rights in Palestine.
Unlike the preceding Tribunals, the aim in this case is not to denounce a perpetrator of the violations, since that has already been done, for instance by the International Court of Justice in The Hague in its Advisory Opinion of 9 July 2004, which is endowed with considerable legal force. The aim of this peoples’ tribunal is to question the international complicity enjoyed by the State of Israel, which has been pursuing a policy of war, occupation and colonisation for 60 years in Palestinian territory, notwithstanding unanimous condemnation by the United Nations and a large number of states and the fact that its policy is in flagrant breach of international treaties, particularly the Geneva Conventions concerning the protection of populations occupied by a foreign power.
The Barcelona session will analyse the position of the European Union on Israel. While Europe is the prime contributor of humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people, it has proved to be incapable of securing respect for the rules of international law by a state occupying territories that have not been granted to it by the United Nations.
The first part of the 16 December meeting was introduced by Pierre Galand, Chair of the European Coordinating Committee of NGOs on the Question of Palestine (ECCP) and the Tribunal’s prime mover. He said that the idea of setting up the Russell Tribunal was prompted by the attitude of the international community, which was “autistic or complicit” vis-à-vis Israel’s serious breaches of the law.
Stéphane Hessel, French Ambassador and co-drafter of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, expressed indignation at the deteriorating situation of the Palestinians and the lack of mobilisation against “one of the most reactionary and xenophobic governments that Israel has ever had”.
Leila Shahid, General Delegate of Palestine to the European Union, Belgium and Luxembourg, referred to the support extended by the great Israeli defender of the cause of peace Nurit Peled, a patron of the Support Committee of the Russell Tribunal. She commended those “jurists who make law and advance the cause of peoples” and the recent statement by the European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council reaffirming the principles of a Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital.
The following contribution reviewed the history and impact of peoples’ tribunals. The French doctor and professor Marcel-Francis Kahn, a member of the “Collectif des citoyens français d’origine arabe et juive” (Collective of French Citizens of Arab and Jewish Origin), actually participated in the proceedings of the Russell Tribunal on war crimes in Vietnam. The extraordinary impact of the Tribunal was due to its complete independence from the political authorities and the unbending rigour of its indictments, especially of the use of weapons such as cluster bombs, the surplus stocks of which were actually sold by the United States to Israel and have been used against the Palestinians! The Russell Tribunal on Palestine is different from the others inasmuch at it is adjudicating “the crime of salience”, that of explicit and implicit complicity with acts of aggression against the Palestinian people.
Gianno Tognoni, who is also a doctor and a member of the Mario Negri Institute in Milan, has been the Secretary of the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal since its foundation. He reviewed its background and defence of the cause of peoples who have been denied the right to be a people, citing the cases of the Western Sahara, Palestine, the Tamils and, in the past, East Timor. “This Russell Tribunal on Palestine is a collective test from the point of view of securing recognition for all the other tribunals; otherwise the outlook for international law, in civil and civilisational terms, will be bleak.”
François Dubuisson, a law professor at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB), reviewed the International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion on the building of the Wall, and analysed the disappointing political consequences that ensued. “Third states cannot remain passive and cannot assist Israel unless the latter, in return, shows respect for international law.”
Reports on the Gaza conflict
The events that led to the establishment of the Tribunal were examined in detail and at length in a large number of reports by international organizations and by well-known and credible NGOs. The two most recent reports were the “Goldstone” report by the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict and the report of the League of Arab States Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Gaza. The former report and its consequences were reviewed by Desmond Travers, who formed part of the Mission and who is a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for International Criminal Investigations (IICI). He drew attention, in particular, to the criminal use of white phosphorus and other weapons, some of which are carcinogenic, against civilian populations. The Security Council must adopt a resolution prohibiting such weapons as a matter of urgency, he said.
Paul J.I.M. de Waart, Emeritus Professor of International Law at Amsterdam’s Vrije Universiteit, was involved in the preparation of the second report. He summarised its content and commented on the follow-up. Analysing the need to recognise Palestine as a state, as has already been done by the Arab League and more than 80 countries throughout the world, he said that Palestine could be a party to the Rome Statute, which is open to ratification by all states of the world even if they are not members of the United Nations. Moreover, the United Nations Secretary-General could accept Palestine as a member of the Arab League and hence as a state.
What is the European Union doing?
The second part of the seminar dealt first with the role of the European Union and the international community with respect to the Israel-Palestine issue. Former Netherlands Prime Minister Dries van Agt denounced the complicity of European institutions and the leaders of European states, including his own, and condemned the “schizophrenia” of leaders who pay lip service to the promotion of human rights and international law but who pursue policies that encourage their violation by Israel in occupied Palestine.
Minister of State Jos Geysels drew attention to a series of paradoxes: the stronger the support expressed for the principle of a two-state solution, the faster Palestinian grassroots enthusiasm wanes, eroded by colonisation and the blockade of Gaza. He also highlighted the chicanery of any proposal that would not take account of the “basic asymmetry between Israel, based on 78% of historic Palestine, and the Palestinians, who are still awaiting the establishment of their state on the remaining 22%”. Asymmetry is also a feature of bilateral relations between the EU and Israel, on the one hand, and the Palestinian National Authority, on the other. While the EU has exerted pressure on the latter during partnership negotiations (with some success), it has never done so vis-à-vis the former.
The general picture of Europe’s dereliction of duty with respect to the rights of the Palestinian people has thus been established. It will be examined at the first international session of the Russell Tribunal in Barcelona.
The functioning of this peoples’ Tribunal
Pierre Galand outlined the procedure to be followed at the Barcelona session, noting that indicted states would be informed in advance, offering them the possibility to defend their position. He then informed the audience of the preparation after Barcelona of a session in London, very probably followed by a third in South Africa before the final session, which should ideally be held somewhere in the Americas.
Before closing the meeting, Giorgio Mosangini, representing the Catalan Support Committee, emphasised the symbolism inherent in the choice of Barcelona for the first session. The lawyer Paul Troop, from the British Support Committee, then revealed the broad lines of the London session, which will deal with the complicity of business enterprises and multinational companies.