The Russell Tribunal
, also known as the International War Crimes Tribunal
or Russell-Sartre Tribunal
, was a public body organized by British philosopher Bertrand Russell
and hosted by French philosopher and playwright Jean-Paul Sartre
. Along with Ken Coates
, Ralph Schoenman
, and several others, the tribunal
investigated and evaluated American foreign policy and military intervention in Vietnam, following the 1954 defeat of French forces at Dien Bien 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.|40px|40px|Justice Robert H. Jackson, Chief Prosecutor, Nuremberg War Crimes Trials
The formation of this investigative body immediately followed the 1966 publication of Russell's book, War Crimes in Vietnam. The tribunal was constituted in November 1966, and was conducted in two sessions in 1967, in Stockholm, Sweden and Copenhagen, Denmark. It gained significant international attention, but was largely ignored in the United States, where many considered it an ineffectual, biased show trial.
Composition and origin
Representatives of 18 countries participated in the two sessions of this tribunal, formally calling itself the International War Crimes Tribunal
. The tribunal committee consisted of 25 notable personages, predominantly from leftist peace organizations. Many of these individuals were winners of the Nobel Prize
, Medals of Valor and awards of recognition in humanitarian and social fields. There was no direct representation of Vietnam or the United States on this 25 member panel, although a couple of members were American citizens.
Of considerable interest during the tribunal hearings was the North Vietnamese response to allegations of atrocity contained in the best selling book titled "Deliver Us From Evil". Published in 1956, this book presented the experience of U.S. Navy physician Thomas Anthony Dooley during Operation Passage to Freedom, in which approximately 90,000 Vietnamese Christians were relocated from North to South Vietnam. The small book contained many allegations of gross atrocity by the communists against these refugees. One of the more dramatic claims was that the communists drove nails into the heads of Vietnamese Catholic priests, to simulate a "crown of thorns".
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.
It was followed by another Tribunal, know as Russell Tribunal II on Latin America, that held three meetings in Rome (1974), Brussels (1975) and Rome (1976), dealing predominately with Brazil and Chile.
At the closing session of the Russell Tribunal II 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 People’s 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 April 13-16, 1984 to investigate the
Armenian Genocide. The Tribunal’s thirty-five member panel included three Nobel Prize winners—Sean MacBride, Adolfo Perez Esquivel and Professor George Wald— and ten eminent jurist, theologians, academics and political figures. The jury delivered a verdict of guilty to the state of Turkey for the crime of genocide against the Armenian people.
Less than two 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.
- Bertrand Russell (Tribunal Honorary President)- Peace Activist; Philosopher; Mathematician
- Jean-Paul Sartre (Tribunal Executive President)- Philosopher;
- Vladimir Dedijer (Tribunal Chairman and President of Sessions)- M.A. Oxon., Doctor of Jurisprudence; historian
- Wolfgang Abendroth- Doctor of Jurisprudence; Professor of Political Science, Marburg University
- Gunther Anders- Writer and philosopher
- Mehmet Ali Aybar- International lawyer; Member of Turkish Parliament; President, Turkish Workers’ Party
- James Baldwin- African American novelist and essayist
- Julio Cortázar (writer) Writer, 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).
- Simone de Beauvoir- Writer and philosopher
- Lázaro Cárdenas- Former President of Mexico
- Stokely Carmichael- Chairman, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
- Lawrence Daly- General Secretary, UK National Union of Mineworkers. Socialist.
- David Dellinger- American pacifist; Editor, Liberation; Chairman, Fifth Avenue Parade Committee.
- Isaac Deutscher- Historian
- Haika Grossman- Jurist; Jewish liberation fighter
- Gisele Halimi- Paris lawyer; attorney for Djamila Bouhired; author of works on French repression of 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 National Assembly of Pakistan, Senior Advocate Supreme Court of Pakistan
- Sara Lidman- Swedish Writer
- Kinju Morikawa Attorney; Vice-Chairman, Japan Civil Liberties Union, a human rights organization.
- Carl Oglesby- Past President, Students for a Democratic Society; playwright; political essayist.
- Shoichi Sakata- Professor of Physics
- Laurent Schwartz- Professor of Mathematics, Paris University.
- Peter Weiss- Playwright; Author; Experimental Film Director
Aims of the Tribunal
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 characterized 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 cooperate ... 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."
Conclusions and Verdicts of the Tribunal
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? Yes (unanimously).
- # 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.
- # 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.
- # Is the Government of Thailand guilty of complicity in the aggression committed by the United States Government against Vietnam? Yes (unanimously).
- # Is the Government of the Philippines guilty of complicity in the aggression committed by the United States Government against Vietnam? Yes (unanimously).
- # 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? Yes (unanimously).
- # Have the armed forces of the United States used or experimented with weapons prohibited by the laws of war? Yes (unanimously).
- # 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).
- # Have the armed forces of the United States subjected the civilian population to inhuman treatment prohibited by international law? Yes (unanimously).
- # Is the United States Government guilty of genocide against the people of Vietnam? Yes (unanimously).
Prompted in part by the My Lai massacre, in 1969 the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation organized 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.
Criticisms of the Tribunal
The hearing were widely seen by many as kangaroo courts and received little attention from the mainstream press. Incidents like the Russell Tribunal were described by historian Guenter Lewy as part of a “veritable industry publicizing alleged war crimes” and outspoken anti-war activist Richard Falk described the finding as a “juridical farce”.
Staughton Lynd, chairman of the 1965 “March on Washington”, was asked by Russell to participate in the tribunal and rejected the invitation. Staughton’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 behavior. 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.”
However, 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" .
- Against The Crime of Silence: Proceedings of The Russell International War Crimes Tribunal, edited by J. Duffett, O’Hare Books, New York, 1968
- War Crimes in Vietnam, by Bertrand Russell, 1967, see Postscript