What is the Russell Tribunal on Palestine?

The first Russell Tribunal met in 1967 to investigate war crimes committed in Vietnam and to adjudicate them on the basis of international law.


It was set up by Bertrand Russell, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950, and chaired by Jean-Paul Sartre.


Eminent intellectuals such as Lelio Basso, Julio Cortazar Lazaro Cardenas and Simone de Beauvoir took part in the tribunal’s proceedings.


Despite lacking formal judicial status, the tribunal acted as a public awareness forum, highlighting acts of injustice and impunity for violations of international law.


Decades later, the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation is sponsoring the establishment of a Russell Tribunal on Palestine.


This tribunal is formed to discuss errors, omissions and complicity of third nations and international organisations causing Israel’s occupation of the territories and its impunity.


It comprises eminent people from a wide range of countries, including Israel.


The tribunal and its legitimacy does not stem from any government or political party, but its members’ prestige, professionalism and commitment to human rights.


Its international support committee features over 100 diverse personalities, such as the former United Nations secretary-general Boutros Boutros-Ghali.


Among others is Mohammed Bedjaoui, ex-president of the International Court of Justice, philosopher Noam Chomsky and filmmaker Ken Loach.


Why is the Tribunal Needed?


July 9 in 2004 saw the International Court of Justice issue an advisory opinion ruling that the wall built by Israel in occupied Palestine was illegal.


Eleven days later, the UN general assembly adopted by an overwhelming majority a resolution which acknowledged the ICJ opinion.


The resolution called on UN member states to comply with their legal obligations as mentioned in the opinion.


These obliged them not to render aid or assistance for the wall’s construction or to recognise this illegal situation.


It also required them to ensure Israel’s compliance with obligations under international humanitarian law and the right of self-determination of the Palestinian people.


But all the states that voted for the resolution were then content to issue mere condemnations and policy statements.


This allowed Israel to continue its policy of land confiscation, creating illegal settlements in occupied territory, and violating Palestinians’ rights.


In December 2008 the Israeli army launched a war on the Gaza Strip, which was already reeling under a brutal siege.


The war rendered Israel’s contempt for international law more apparent than ever.


It highlighted the responsibility and complicity of other countries – especially the United States and the EU – in the injustice suffered by the Palestinian people.


Yet as the condemnations have not been accompanied by sanctions of any kind, Israel enjoys the tacit support of the international community.


This is the context that led to the establishment of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine.


It represents a civil initiative that aims to promote international law as the key factor applicable to the conflict between Israel and Palestine.


The tribunal also seeks to mobilize international public opinion so the UN and member states can be persuaded to act to end Israel’s impunity and build a lasting just peace.


It is not only established to focus on Israel’s manifest responsibility. The tribunal also intends to show the complicity of third-party states and international bodies whose passive stance or active support allow Israel to continue violating rights.

How does the Tribunal Operate?


The RTP was established in response to a call by the late Ken Coates, chair of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation, Nurit Peled, the Israeli winner of the Sakharov prize for freedom of speech, and Leila Shahid, the EU general delegate for Palestine.


Responsibility for organising the Russell Tribunal on Palestine lies with the International Organizing Committee.


Its members are: Pierre Galand, Stéphane Hessel, Marcel-Francis Kahn, Robert Kissous, François Maspero, Paulette Pierson-Mathy, Bernard Ravenel and Brahim Senouci.


The international support committee comprises individuals from the academic, scientific, cultural and political fields with an international reputation and no current political mandate (see annex).


The national support committees contribute to fundraising and ensure popular mobilisation and media coverage.


They may also assume responsibility for organising a session in their country or help to arrange others.


National support committees have been set up in France, Belgium, United Kingdom, Ireland, Switzerland, Portugal, Germany, Italy, and Spain and Catalonia.


Such committees are also being established in the Netherlands, Austria, Algeria, Lebanon, India and Chile.


The UK National Support Committee will host the second session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine in London on the 20-22 November.


The UK committee brings together individuals such as academics, lawyers, journalists, activists, writers specialised in Human Rights as well as British organisations involved in defending human rights and international law in Palestine.


Tribunal sessions are prepared with assistance from dozens of experts and academics from different countries. Experts present arguments at the hearings. Witnesses testify on relevant aspects of the issues addressed.


A jury comprising eminent personalities from the legal, academic, scientific, cultural or political fields will be present at each session.


The tribunal is the core element of the project.


Once the hearings end after the experts’ reports and witness statements, the jury will present its conclusions.
London session (20-22 November)


The Russell Tribunal on Palestine has been planned as a decentralised initiative that will involve sessions in different cities between 2010 and 2012.


The second international session will take place in London from 20-22 November at the Law Society.


It will examine corporate complicity in Israel’s violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law.


The content of the London session will be prepared with help from many prominent legal experts in international law and Corporate Law.


These academics are from Britain, the US, France, Belgium, Ireland, Netherlands, Israel and Palestine.




The jury will comprise eight people of internationally recognised moral or legal prestige:


Alice Walker, the African American author and poet, who has written on race and gender and is best known for the novel The Color Purple, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. In 2003 on International Women’s Day she was arrested with others for crossing a police line during a protest outside the White House. Walker was among more than 5,000 activists – linked with the organisations Code Pink and Women for Pea

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