Peoples Tribunal versus Judicial Tribunal – a Primer

A Peoples’ Tribunal is set up by private citizens and/or organizations such as what the Global Alliance has done with the Ethics Tribunal versus a Judicial Tribunal set up by governments and member States to hear and adjudicate cases.  A People’s Tribunal has no legal authority beyond the integrity and respect generated from its process and participants.

A modern day example of a Peoples’s Human Rights Tribunal is The Russell Tribunal also known as the International War Crimes Tribunal.   The following presents information on the Russell Tribunal from which the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal evolved followed by information on the Inter-American Court of Human Rights which is a formal judicial tribunal convened by Latin American member states.  A core vision of the Rights of Nature Ethics Tribunal is that it ultimately be recognized with a similar global authority to that of the Russell Tribunal and Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal.

1.  Russell Tribunal The following is from

Russell Tribunal on Palestine
Russell Tribunal on Palestine – March 2013 in Brussels

The Russell Tribunal, also known as the International War Crimes Tribunal or Russell-Sartre Tribunal, was a private body organized by British philosopher Bertrand Russell and hosted by French philosopher and playwright Jean-Paul Sartre. Along with Ken Coates, Ralph Schoenman, Julio Cortázar and several others, the tribunal investigated and evaluated American foreign policy and military intervention in Vietnam, following the 1954 defeat of French forces at the Battle of 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.

—Justice Robert H. Jackson, Chief Prosecutor, Nuremberg War Crimes Trials[1]

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 Roskilde, Denmark. It was largely ignored in the United States.

Further tribunals were set up in the following decades on the same model, using the denomination Russell Tribunal.

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.

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.[2]

It was followed by another Tribunal, known as Russell Tribunal II on Latin America, that held three meetings in Rome (1974), Brussels (1975) and Rome again (1976), dealing predominantly 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 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 April 13–16, 1984 to investigate the Armenian Genocide. The Tribunal’s thirty-five 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 jury delivered a verdict of guilty to the state of Turkey for the crime of genocide against the Armenian people.

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.

2.      Permanent People’s Tribunal – came out of the Russell Tribunal and

The current 2014-2016 Session is the Canada Mining Tribunal.    Learn more at

Canada Found Guilty for Role in Mining Injustices in Latin America

By act and by omission, the Canadian state has been found guilty for its role in human rights violations in Latin America as a result of its efforts to promote, sponsor and protect Canadian mining investments abroad. Five Canadian mining companies were also found guilty of related crimes. For more on the ruling visit:  Canada Found Guilty for Role in Mining Injustices in Latin America

More about the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal

The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT) is a body which, by statute, is part of the International Section of Lelio Basso Foundation. Set up in June 1979, it is the direct continuation of the opinion tribunals Russell I and II.  The PPT is an opinion tribunal whose activities include identifying and publicising cases of systematic violation of fundamental rights, especially cases in which national and international legislation fails to defend the right of the people (Gianni Tognoni’s article).

An opinion tribunal is an innovation in the field of law and politics, the legitimacy of which Lelio Basso discussed at length reaching the conclusion that: “The needs of public conscience can become a recognized source of law […] and a tribunal that emanates directly from the popular consciousness reflects an idea that will make headway: institutionalized powers and the people, from whom the former claim legitimacy in actual fact tend to diverge and only a truly popular initiative can try to bridge the gap between people and power”.

List of most recent rulings:

39 Free trade, violence, impunity and peoples’ right in Mexico (2011-2014)
38 Sri Lanka and Tamil people II (Bremen, 7-6 December 2013)
37 Agrochemical transnational corporation (Bangalore, 3-6 December 2011)
36 Sri Lanka and the Tamil people I (14-16 January 2010)
35 Philippines II (The Hague, 21-25 March 2007)
34 The European Union and transnational companies in Latin America: policies, instruments and actors complicit in the violations of peoples’ rights (Madrid, 14-17 May 2010)33 More cases are listed at

More at

The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal is international opinion tribunal that was founded in Bologna (Italy) June 24, 1979 at the initiative of Senator Lelio Basso.[1]  The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal is an international opinion tribunal independent from State authorities. It examines and provides judgments relatives to violations of human rights and rights of peoples. The Tribunal was founded in Bologna (Italy), June 24, 1979, by law experts, writers and other intellectuals. It succeeded the Russell Tribunal (or International War Crimes Tribunal), which, in 1967, exposed the war crimes committed against the Vietnamese people. The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal was created out of the Lelio Basso International Foundation for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples (FILB), established in 1976 and inspired by the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Peoples at Algiers (also named the Algiers Declaration). The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal may use International human rights law, or the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted by the United Nations [2]

The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal examined the cases of Tibet, Western Sahara, Argentina, Eritrea, Philippine, El Salvador, Afghanistan, East Timor, Zaïre, Guatemala, the Armenian Genocide or recently the Tamil genocide in Sri Lanka, the intervention of the United States in Nicaragua, Brazilian Amazon, etc. In certain cases (Central America, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bhopal disaster …), commissions of investigation went on the spot.

In 1996, after the session of Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal on Industrial Hazards and Human Rights in Bhopal, 1992, the “Charter on Industrial Hazards and Human Rights” was adopted.


Judicial Tribunals setup by Governmental States

1.      Inter-American Court of Human Rights

As an FYI, in the last few weeks, Fundación Pachamama presented their case against the Ecuadorian government in an effort to reopen and have the rights to freedom of speech and to due process for all NGO organizations in Ecuador protected to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.  This is the same court to whom the Kichwa Community of Sarayaku presented and won their case related to oil exploration without free, prior, informed consent.  Its authority is in the ratification of the Convention by participating Latin American countries.  The US signed but never ratified the Convention.   

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights is an autonomous judicial institution based in the city of San José, Costa Rica. Together with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, it makes up the human rights protection system of the Organization of American States (OAS), which serves to uphold and promote basic rights and freedoms in the Americas.

The adjudicatory function requires the Court to rule on cases brought before it in which a state party to the Convention, and thus has accepted its jurisdiction, is accused of a human rights violation.

In addition to ratifying the Convention, a state party must voluntary submit to the Court’s jurisdiction for it to be competent to hear a case involving that state. Acceptance of contentious jurisdiction can be given on a blanket basis – to date, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, and Venezuela have done so[1] – or, alternatively, a state can agree to abide by the Court’s jurisdiction in a specific, individual case.

Trinidad and Tobago originally signed the Convention on 28 May 1991 but suspended its ratification on 26 May 1998 (effective 26 May 1999) over the death penalty issue. In 1999, under President Alberto Fujimori, Peru announced it was withdrawing its acceptance of the Court’s jurisdiction. This decision was reversed by the transitional government of Valentín Paniagua in 2001.

The United States signed but never ratified the Convention.

Under the Convention, cases can be referred to the Court by either the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights or a state party. In contrast to the European human rights system, individual citizens of the OAS member states are not allowed to take cases directly to the Court.

The following conditions must be met:

  • Individuals who believe that their rights have been violated must first lodge a complaint with the Commission and have that body rule on the admissibility of the claim.
  • If the case is ruled admissible and the state deemed at fault, the Commission will generally serve the state with a list of recommendations to make amends for the violation.
  • Only if the state fails to abide by these recommendations, or if the Commission decides that the case is of particular importance or legal interest, will the case be referred to the Court.
  • The presentation of a case before the Court can therefore be considered a measure of last resort, taken only after the Commission has failed to resolve the matter in a non-contentious fashion.