We welcome the Russell Tribunal on Palestine: we had the Law but were lacking the Tribunal

Dr. David Bondia Garcia
Tenured lecturer of public international law. University of Barcelona
Dr. David Bondia Garcia

David Bondia

Israel's failure to respect international law in terms of its actions towards the Palestinian people, and the serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law ordered and committed by members of the Israeli government and army, have repeatedly been reported to various Spanish and international authorities. It is highly likely that these violations would have been impossible without some degree of complicity...

We had the Law but were lacking the Tribunal... The International Court of Justice has no power to judge these violations as Israel has not accepted its jurisdiction. At present, it is impossible to judge the individuals directly or indirectly responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed against the Palestinian people before the International Criminal Court, as Israel has not ratified its Statute - we await the final decision at the review conference scheduled to take place in Kampala in late May this year. The Israeli internal courts refuse to deal with these individual liabilities. One door that remained open, in Spain at least, was the universal jurisdiction; but this has been reduced and distorted after an agreement between the two main political parties, at the request of the Socialist government and after pressure from foreign authorities. Unfortunately, this decision leaves many victims of human rights violations without hope, without justice and without the right to know; it aims for them to remain invisible, not only where they suffered from the violations, but also in Spain...

In order to challenge this attempt to render the victims invisible, and in view of this legal void, it was necessary to return to the spirit of the first Russell Tribunal, which was held in 1967 to investigate the war crimes committed in Vietnam. It was followed by others that sat in judgement on the atrocities of the dictatorships in Latin America, the invasion of Iraq and finally, we now have a Russell Tribunal on Palestine.

The first session of this Tribunal coincided with Spain's six-month presidency of the EU Council, and was held in Barcelona between 1 and 3 March. Its mandate was to consider the degree of complicity of the European Union and its member States in prolonging the occupation of Palestinian Territory and Israel's violations of the rights of the Palestinian people. Other sessions are scheduled: a second session of the Tribunal is being organised for London in 2010, to consider the complicity and omissions of multinational companies; other sessions will subsequently be organised on various continents to deal with other complicities and omissions, especially those of the United States and the United Nations, and, finally, the process will end with a closing session.

Based on an initiative by the Bertrand Russell Foundation, promoted in Catalonia and Spain by the coordinator of organisations Amb Palestina al Cor - with the support of Barcelona City Council and the ICIP - the Barcelona session will consider the complicity of the EU and its member States with regard to various specific issues such as the Palestinian people's right to self-determination, the blockade of Gaza and Operation Heavy Lead, the building of settlements and stealing of natural resources, the EU-Israel partnership agreement and the annexation of East Jerusalem.
Those responsible for judging this complicity at the Barcelona session (Michael Mansfield, Gisèle Halimi, José Antonio Martín Pallín, Ronald Kasrils, Mairead Corrigan-Maguire, Cynthia McKinney and Aminata Traoré) are individuals of acknowledged intellectual prestige. Leaving their pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli positions to one side, they have been leading advocates of the defence of human rights and the force and application of international law.

Among the documentation available to members of the jury is the report produced by the Russell Tribunal's Spanish and Catalan Committee of experts, with the support of the ICIP, for the Barcelona session and subsequent sessions which analyses: the fallacy of security and threats to human security; the passive complicity of the European Union with regard to the violations of international law arising from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian Territory; Spanish foreign policy; the arms trade and military and security co-operation between Spain and Israel; the consultative opinion of the International Court of Justice on the legal consequences of the construction of a wall in the occupied Palestinian Territory, with special reference to the issue of the settlements and Jerusalem; Israeli policies regarding water resources in the occupied territories and the consequences for the Palestinian population; Gaza, Operation Cast Lead and the Goldstone report; the restrictions on access to international justice for Palestinian victims of serious human rights violations; and the policy of apartheid against the Palestinian people.

The Russell Tribunal for Palestine thus opens the door to a new initiative that reminds us that it is always possible to act against injustice by mobilising civil society. Although the sentence issued by the Russell Tribunal will have no obligatory legal force - which does not mean it has no legal value - as pointed out by Julio Cortázar, a member of the Board in one of the previous sessions of the Tribunal, "the real effectiveness, the real strength of the Russell Tribunal does not lie in the immediate and circumstantial effect of its meetings, but instead in the work of universal investigation that may be carried out based on what is said during its sessions. The proceedings of the Tribunal should not be confused with the moral and political impact that its sentence may have. Although the sessions are public, the capacity of the hall is insignificant compared to the millions of people for whom the work and conclusions Russell Tribunal are important".

Although the capacity of the hall may be limited, the place where the session is to be held is not. If we are talking about judging complicities, I could add another one to the list: that of my University, which after having agreed months beforehand to host the session of the Russell Tribunal in the Paranimf, decided to carry out refurbishment works that just happened to be taking place on those days, after pressure from who knows where. No problem - we will all be in the Saló d'actes of Barcelona's College of Lawyers, between 1 and 3 March.

More information at:

Russell Tribunal on Palestine [pdf, 1.96 Mb]