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 Lelio Basso, Ken Coates, Ralph Schoenman, Julio Cortázar and several others. The tribunal investigated and evaluated American foreign policy and military intervention in Vietnam. This had taken place in the decade following the 1954 defeat of French forces at Diên Biên 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.
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.
Additional tribunals have been conducted in the following decades on the same model, using the denomination Russell Tribunal. E.g., The Russell Tribunal on Latin America focused on human rights violations in the military dictatorships of Argentina and Brazil (Rome, 1973), on Chile's military coup d'état (Rome, 1974–76), on the situation of Human Rights in Germany (1978), on the Threat of Indigenous Peoples of America (1982), on Human Rights in Psychiatry (Berlin, 2001), on Iraq (Brussels, 2004), and on Palestine (Barcelona, 2009–12). The tribunal has been subject to criticism by some historians and activists who argue against its lack of standing.
Composition and origin
Representatives of 18 countries participated in the two sessions of this tribunal, which formally organised as the International War Crimes Tribunal. The tribunal committee consisted of 25 notable figures, predominantly individuals 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. 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 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.
The Russell Tribunal II on Latin America followed; it held three meetings in Rome (1974), Brussels (1975), and Rome again (1976), dealing predominantly with human rights abuses by dictatorships in Brazil and Chile.
- Wolfgang Abendroth, JD, Professor of Political Science, Marburg University
- Tariq Ali, journalist and political campaigner
- Günther Anders, writer and philosopher
- Mehmet Ali Aybar, international lawyer; Member of Turkish Parliament; President, Turkish Workers' Party
- A.J. Ayer, British philosopher and logician
- James Baldwin, African-American novelist and essayist
- Lelio Basso, international lawyer; Deputy of Italian Parliament and Member of the Commission of Foreign Affairs; professor, Rome University. President of PSIUP (Italian Socialist Party of Proletarian Unity).
- Julio Cortázar, Argentine writer, novelist and essayist
- Lázaro Cárdenas, former President of Mexico
- Stokely Carmichael, American civil rights activist, Chairman, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
- Lawrence Daly, General Secretary, UK National Union of Mineworkers
- Simone de Beauvoir, French writer and philosopher
- Vladimir Dedijer, MA, JD, Tribunal chairman and President of Sessions, historian
- David Dellinger, American pacifist; Editor, Liberation; Chairman, Fifth Avenue Parade Committee.
- Isaac Deutscher, German historian
- Miguel Ángel Estrella, ambassador to UNESCO
- Haika Grossman, Israeli liberation fighter, jurist
- Gisèle Halimi, French lawyer; attorney for Djamila Bouhired; author of works on French repression of independence fighters in Algeria
- Amado V. Hernandez, poet laureate of the Philippines; Chairman, Democratic Labor Party; Acting President, National Organization of Philippine Writers
- Melba Hernandez, Chairman, Cuban Committee for Solidarity with Viet Nam, now the Cuba-Viet Nam Friendship Association
- Mahmud Ali Kasuri, Member of the National Assembly of Pakistan, Senior Advocate Supreme Court of Pakistan
- Sara Lidman, Swedish writer
- Kinju Morikawa, attorney; Vice-Chairman, Japan Civil Liberties Union
- Carl Oglesby, Past President, Students for a Democratic Society; playwright; political essayist.
- Bertrand Russell (Tribunal Honorary President), peace activist; philosopher; mathematician
- Shoichi Sakata, Japanese physicist, educator
- Jean-Paul Sartre (Tribunal Executive President), philosopher; writer, playwright, political activist
- Laurent Schwartz, Professor of Mathematics, Paris University.
- Alice Walker, American author and activist
- Peter Weiss, German playwright, novelist; experimental film director
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:
- Has the United States Government (and the Governments of Australia, New Zealand and South Korea) committed acts of aggression according to international law?
- Has the American army made use of or experimented with new weapons or weapons forbidden by the laws of war?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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
During the First Tribunal Session in Stockholm, testimony and evidence was produced by the following witnesses:
- Professor Gabriel Kolko, historian, University of Pennsylvania
- Jean Chesneaux
- Charles Forniau, US Civil Rights Attorney
Conclusions and verdicts
The Tribunal stated that its conclusions were:
- Has the Government of the United States committed acts of aggression against Vietnam under the terms of international law?
- Has there been, and if so, on what scale, bombardment of purely civilian targets, for example, hospitals, schools, medical establishments, dams, etc?
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.
- 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?
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.
- Is the Government of Thailand guilty of complicity in the aggression committed by the United States Government against Vietnam?
- Is the Government of the Philippines guilty of complicity in the aggression committed by the United States Government against Vietnam?
- 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.
- Has the United States Government committed aggression against the people of Laos, according to the definition provided by international law?
- Have the armed forces of the United States used or experimented with weapons prohibited by the laws of war?
- Have prisoners of war captured by the armed forces of the United States been subjected to treatment prohibited by the laws of war?
- Have the armed forces of the United States subjected the civilian population to inhuman treatment prohibited by international law?
- Is the United States Government guilty of genocide against the people of Vietnam?
- Has the Government of the United States committed acts of aggression against Vietnam under the terms of international law?
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.
Reasoning for verdicts
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 reasoning of genocide for several reason, 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."
At the closing session of the Russell Tribunal 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 35-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 tribunal concluded that genocide was already prohibited by law at the time the Armenian Genocide took place - that though not explicitly banned by written rules it was not legally tolerated - thus the 1948 International Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was formally expressing an already existing prohibition. The tribunal concluded that the massacres of Armenians between 1915 and 1917 revealed the intention of the systematic extermination of the Armenian people, intent as specified in article II of the 1948 convention, and that it was undoubtedly a genocide, the manifestation of a policy that had emerged in the Ottoman Empire in the 1890s. The tribunal criticised as unacceptable the denial (il diniego abusive "the abusive refusal") of the genocide by Turkish governments since the establishment of the Kemalist republic.
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.
1974–76: On Repression in Brazil, Chile, and Latin America
After Russell's death in 1970, Senator Lelio Basso organised a second tribunal in 1973 initially focused on human rights violations in Brazil, which then expanded to include Chile in the wake of the military coup in that country, and then to all of Latin America. Basso presided over the tribunal and writer Gabriel García Márquez, historians Vladimir Dedijer and Albert Soboul, and professor of law François Rigaux served as vice-presidents.
2001: On Human Rights in Psychiatry (Berlin)
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. 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."
2004: On Iraq (Brussels)
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."
2009–2014: On Palestine (Barcelona, London, Cape Town, New York, Brussels)
In April 2011, the association converted to a non-profit organisation, with legal status in Brussels, by Pierre Galand, Jacques Michiels, Jacques Debatty, Nadia Farkh, Henri Eisendrath and Roseline Sonet. The former non-elected PS senator, Galand, was appointed president of the association.
The first session of the Tribunal took place in Barcelona in March 2010 This session's objective was to consider the complicities and omissions of the European Union and its member states in the Palestinian-Israel conflict. 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.
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?"
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. More than €15,000 was raised at a 24 September 2011 fundraising event by the Belgian support committee of the Russell Tribunal. The Caipirinha Foundation lists the RToP as a grant receiver, but does not disclose the amount or the year of its grant.
A fourth international session of the RToP took place in New York on 6–7 October 2012.
A fifth session met in Brussels on 16–17 March 2013.
The tribunal did not investigate alleged war crimes by the Viet Cong; Ralph Schoenman commented: "Lord Russell would think no more of doing that than of trying the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto for their uprising against the Nazis."
The Russell Tribunal was included by historian Guenter Lewy as part of a "veritable industry publicizing alleged war crimes", as increasing numbers of American servicemen were stepping forward with published accounts of their experiences with atrocities, and scholars and peace organisations were holding tribunals dealing with war crimes.
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."
David Horowitz, who did some work for the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation but didn't participate in the Tribunal, wrote 30 years later about the criticism that the Russell Tribunal would not also investigate alleged Communist atrocities. In his memoirs, Horowitz wrote that Jean-Paul Sartre said, "I refuse to place in the same category the actions of an organization of poor peasants ... and those of an immense army backed by a highly organized country ...". Horowitz interpreted Sartre's words to mean "the Communists were, by definition, incapable of committing war crimes."
A detailed historical account of the tribunal carried out by historian Cody J. Foster, on the contrary, has argued that the evidence produced in the tribunal was reliable and well balanced, and that the initiative was very important to re-balance the American public opinion views about the Vietnam war. Furthermore, it inspired several subsequent films and documentaries on the Vietnam war.
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."
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."
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".
A group of Jewish South Africans protested against the court, and the organiser of the protest called it a "Kangaroo Court."
Daniele Archibugi and Alice Pease have argued that it is a rather common practice that those accused of international crimes challenge the impartiality of their accusers. And it may be the case that the organisers of opinion tribunals, as of any other tribunal, might be biased or produce insufficient evidence. But to further develop the rule of law, those which are unsatisfied about the outcomes of these tribunals should be able to produce further evidence and legal arguments rather than unsubstantiated criticism. Legal discourse, they argue, is necessarily based on the opposition of contrasting views.
- Donald Duncan
- Human Rights Record of the United States
- International Tribunal on Crimes against Women
- Iran Tribunal
- Kangaroo court
- List of massacres in Vietnam
- My Lai Massacre
- Pentagon Papers
- Phoenix Program
- Tiger Force
- Vietnam War Crimes Working Group Files
- War crimes committed by the United States
- Winter Soldier Investigation
- World Courts of Women
- Watling, John (1970) Bertrand Russell. Oliver & Boyd. ISBN 978-0-0500-2215-3
- B. Russell, War Crimes in Vietnam. Ed. Monthly Review, January 1967; ISBN 978-0-85345-058-0
- Griffin, Nicholas (July 2002). The Selected Letters of Bertrand Russell: The Public Years, 1914–1970. Routledge.
- Duffett, James (1968). Against the Crime of Silence: Proceedings of the Russell International War Crimes Tribunal. New York: O'hare Books. p. 58.
- Duffett, James (1968). Against the Crime of Silence: Proceedings of the Russell International War Crimes Tribunal. New York: O'hare Books. p. 70.
- Duffett, James (1968). Against the Crime of Silence: Proceedings of the Russell International War Crimes Tribunal. New York: O'hare Books. p. 79.
- Gerassi, John (1968) ''North Vietnam: A Documentary,'' London : Allen & Unwin
- "Questioning the New Imperial World Order". www.brussellstribunal.org. Retrieved 15 June 2018.
- Tribunal judgment (pdf in Italian)
- Postado por Almir Cezar Filho. "Theotonio dos Santos – Site Oficial: Lelio Basso e a América Latina". Theotoniodossantos.blogspot.com. Retrieved 18 February 2013.
- "International War Crimes Tribunal Records TAM.098". dlib.nyu.edu. Retrieved 30 April 2017.
- "FIRST SESSION OF RUSSELL TRIBUNAL ON REPRESSION IN BRAZIL, CHILE AND LATIN AMERICA" (pdf). www.cia.gov. CIA. Retrieved 30 April 2017.
- 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.
- de Cauter, Lieven (April 2004). Jacques Derrida: For a future to come. Indymedia.
- "Official but unsigned document" (PDF). Retrieved 18 February 2013.
- "Russell Tribunal on Palestine website". Retrieved 30 December 2011.
- "Rencontre-débat autour du Tribunal Russell sur la Palestine" (PDF). Retrieved 18 February 2013.
- "Fundraiser by the Belgian support committee". Russelltribunalonpalestine.com. Retrieved 18 February 2013.
- "Groups We Support". Caipirinhafoundation.org. Retrieved 18 February 2013.
- "NEW YORK SESSION". Russelltribunalonpalestine.com. October 2012. Retrieved 18 February 2013.
- "Full conclusions of the final session | Russell Tribunal on Palestine". www.russelltribunalonpalestine.com. Retrieved 23 September 2015.
- "The Russel Tribunal on Palestine Extraordinary Session on Gaza: Summary of Findings Brussels" (PDF). European Parliament. 25 September 2014. Retrieved 29 April 2016.
- "Off With Their Hands". Newsweek. 15 May 1967. Quoted in "The Human Cost of Communism in Vietnam: A Compendium Prepared for the Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Internal Security Laws of the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate". U.S. Government Printing Office. 17 February 1972. p. 64. Retrieved 28 August 2016.
- Lewy, Guenter (December 1978). America in Vietnam. Oxford University Press.
- Lynd, Staughton (December 1967). "The War Crimes Tribunal: A Dissent". Liberation. Cite journal requires
- David Horowitz, Radical Son: A Generational Odyssey, page 149.
- Cody J. Foster, Did America Commit War Crimes in Vietnam?, New York Times, 1 December 2017
- Israel and the Apartheid Slander RICHARD J. GOLDSTONE. New York Times, 31 October 2011
- Benjamin Pogrund (30 October 2011). "Lies Told About Israel are Beyond Belief". Timeslive.co.za. Retrieved 18 February 2013.
- "MK Schneller files complaint against MK Zoabi". Ynetnews.com. 20 June 1995. Retrieved 18 February 2013.
- Israel slammed at Russell Tribunal Archived 10 November 2011 at the Wayback Machine
- See Daniele Archibugi and Alice Pease, Crime and Global Justice: The Dynamics of International Punishment, Polity, 2018.
- 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.
- Russelltribunalen. Directed by Staffan Lamm. 2003/2004.
- Crime and Global Justice: The Dynamics of International Punishment, by Daniele Archibugi and Alice Pease, Polity Press, Cambridge, 2018. ISBN 978-1509512621
- Selections from the Russell Tribunal
- Russell Tribunal on Palestine
- Reviews of the Proceedings of the Russell International War Crimes Tribunal and Sartre's essay, On Genocide
- War Crimes and Vietnam: The "Nuremberg Defense" and the Military Service Resister
- Interview with Frank Barat of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine