ACHIEVEMENTS of RTP Michael Mansfield QC
Synopsis and Speaking Note
Jean Paul Sartre
People’s Tribunal of Conscience – preceded by Nuremberg but no permanent Tribunal
Bear witness to violations – jurors not judges
Powerless – guarantee of independence
Break the crime of silence
What is the truth?
Developed objectives for Tribunal on Palestine
Preliminary discussion prior to start of Jury deliberations in Barcelona
Context – Rome Treaty 1998 and permanent International Criminal Court 2002 Problem now different to 1966 – IMPLEMENTATION
Two schools of thought amongst jurors:
With the guiding hand of Stephane Hessel resolved resoundingly in favour of expanding aims to include important new dimension. Essentially this amounted to identifying and explaining WAYS FORWARD and LEGAL AVENUES for action for citizens of the world community especially Palestinians.
Unlike the Vietnam War the violations have been well documented and traversed on many occasions and ultimately recognised by the UN. Whilst these need to be reiterated, the perennial stumbling block has been implementation. The repeated plea has been ‘what can we do about it and can we make a difference?’ it was agreed that the Tribunal must not in any form become an academic talking shop.
CENTRAL THEME OF RTP
In the light of the above discussion the Tribunal has honoured the aims, old and new.
All 4 hearings in Barcelona (EU complicity); London (corporate complicity) ; Cape Town (Israel’s particular system of Apartheid); New York (UN failings) have identified the violations and recommended positive steps that can be engaged by individuals and groups against specific perpetrators and those who cooperate and collude.
The font and motivating force for this approach can be found in the Advisory Opinion of ICJ on the Wall in 2004. This was one of the main stimuli for the establishment of this Russell Tribunal in the first place. It is vital to repeat the court’s exhortations in order to lend authority and legitimacy to the Tribunal’s existence and objectives.
The message and findings have to be seen and heard for there to be any impact:
This has been accomplished admirably by the publication of printed summary reports as well as the full versions, an extensive website, live stream recordings of the hearings and interviews. These have been well received and appreciated especially by those working in the field and the many NGOs. They have become an established source of reference, and an educational tool.
The process employed to reach this position was quasi legal and on all occasions ensured that anyone subject to potential criticism had the opportunity to put their case on record. Notably Israel pretended to ignore and dismiss this facility in line with its professed stand on other international deliberations including the ICJ decision on the Wall.
Nevertheless there can be no doubt that this exercise raised internationally the Palestinian profile and narrative in the face of an often hostile or disinterested western media, markedly in the UK.
For anyone on the receiving end of daily brutality, the knowledge of international support for the struggle towards self determination provides enduring invigoration.
Solidarity helps to break down the natural feelings of isolation and an uncaring world. We may not have managed to stop the bullets, yet, but Israel is backing itself into a cul de sac from which there can be no escape without justice.
The high point in this exercise has to the increasing recognition and effectiveness of Russell with the UN and its various organs. This was undoubtedly assisted by the unrivalled reputation of Stephane as someone critically involved at the inception of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Post Cape Town it was decided to make representations to the 80th session of CERD an adjunct of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. It has the responsibility to monitor and recommend change in relation to discrimination. Israel signed the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination in 1966 and ratified it in 1979.
John D compiled a written submission and I delivered the oral representations which went further than has customarily been the case. Russell had concluded in Cape Town that the international precepts which delineate a system of Apartheid applied to all Palestinians wherever they lived within the OPT and Israel itself. The well respected and 18 strong UN committee accepted the main thrust of our argument and for the first time employed terms of admonition which incorporated the concept of Apartheid (cite para 24 ). Apartheid has been defined in especially wide terms in the Apartheid Conventions and the Rome Statute to include ethnic cleansing. It is a recognised crime. (Article citation)
This was a major advance and victory; a critical step towards bringing Israel to book. Israel addressed the committee at length but needless to say dismissed its conclusions. The feedback from this result has been widespread, positive and heartening.
The next stage came in New York when Russell was given access to the UNGA committee on Palestine. Our presentation was forceful and trenchant. The delegates listened intently and congratulated the Tribunal on the way it had touched their consciences. There were many speakers in support of our contentions about the need for action (these contentions can be found in the New York report).
The final stage was Roger Water’s fine speech on the day of the General Assembly vote. It can be found widely reported online. This underpinned, in his inimitable style, everything we have been exposing over the 4 hearings. There had been much heart and soul searching about whether the GA should be pushed to a vote but once Hamas joined forces the die was cast.
It was overwhelming. There can be no equivocation. A singular message to Israel and indirectly its collaborators in the US, UK and Canada: that time is running out. The world community has taken a stand alongside the villagers of Bil’in. (See below).
Russell can be proud of its contribution, small but significant, to this outcome.
As a post script to this saga it is worth noting that the HRC at the beginning of February this year issued a cogently worded ultimatum to Israel. It must withdraw all settlers from the West Bank or face a case at the ICC for serious violations of international law. All settlement activity in the OPT must cease and a process of withdrawal must immediately commence. The settlements were tantamount to creeping annexation and were preventing the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. (See below re the ICC).
Israel’s response was entirely predictable: to dismiss the demand. Worse… after the vote in November it was to immediately announce the opposite. The building of more settlements in East Jerusalem, on land regarded as sacrosanct, were there ever to be a two state solution. This says it all. A state which is creating a de facto Greater Israel, which breaks the law, ignores the law, and relies on unspoken immunity. No wonder it has been described as a nation no longer worthy to be a member of the community of nations. A pariah state.
This steady advance in world opinion is clearly having an impact on an increasingly rattled, frenetic and embattled Israeli state.
Israel had pretended to ignore Russell up until the hearings in SA. Then it could contain itself no longer. Despite its historic links with the old Apartheid Regime, it is particularly sensitive to the allegation of apartheid, especially if it is applied to Israel itself.
What happened is of singular significance.
Even before the hearings had got off the ground there was a concerted attempt to discredit and derail the Tribunal. The vanguard of this attack was borne by the celebrated SA judge Richard Goldstone who tried to dismiss the ‘slander’ of apartheid and the integrity of the tribunal. He had himself run foul of the Israeli government for his adverse findings on his UN fact finding mission to Gaza. He had been forced months earlier to modify and retract part of his report (in terms of ‘regret’) although the other members of the team did not.
The moment Haneen Zoabi, one of few Palestinian voices in the Knesset, had completed her evidence to Russell about the incidence of segregationist legislation within Israel she was threatened with disqualification and expulsion, (a manoeuvre repeated in the run up to the recent elections but overruled in the Supreme Court).
Someone had been following the proceedings on the live feed and that someone decided it was time to pull the plug. The operation was very sophisticated allowing continued access to the home page of the Russell website but not to the content of proceedings. The tribunal was not deterred. It was clearly having an impact on Israeli radar.
INSPIRATION – other tribunals
Russell has set an example of what is possible. It coincides with a general awakening of world citizenry to the iniquities of corruption and oppression and the need to retake control.
The Arab Spring is still continuing, especially in Egypt; the Occupy movement remains alive in the UK, US, and Greece; the emergence and growth of transitional communities; the rapid expansion of global environmental and anti capital movements.
All this was appreciated and embraced by Stephane in his powerful and poignant writings –
‘INDIGNEZ-VOUS’ and ‘ ENGAGEZ-VOUS’.
In this context the organisers and participants in Russell have been approached and involved in other projects where People’s Tribunals are seen as the most effective means of raising awareness and seeking redress:
1. This weekend the People’s Tribunal on Iran is holding its press conference in London. Last November, both John D and I sat as judges during hearings held in the Peace Palace which houses the ICJ in the Hague. It had been preceded by a Truth Commission which sat in London earlier in the year.
2. Whilst doing this I was approached by a group from Syria to do the same thing for them.
3. Frank B, who along with all the organising committees are to be commended on their outstanding work, has been approached by other groups concerned with Tamil, Chiapas, Tunisian, and UK Deaths in Custody issues.
4. The Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, PSCC, is organising a People’s Tribunal consisting of a judge and nine legal expert jurors in Bil’in, Palestine, between the 24-26 April. This village is caught between the Green Line and the Wall. It is due to lose half its territory and witnesses weekly unlawful force used against protesters. It will be examining the punitive measures adopted by the Israelis to suppress freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. We have been asked for support and the participation of jurors.
5. In London I have been approached to chair and help establish a People’s Commission into UK Government policy in relation to the precarious future for the NHS and the closure of hospitals.
Once again solidarity is the key: Standing together with a common purpose of carrying a message and attempting to enforce it through the courts.
There are two arenas, one criminal the other civil.
International – ICC
The GA November vote mentioned above has changed the landscape as the HRC had anticipated. It has answered one of the questions about status that had been bothering the ICC prosecutor. This risk was one the main reasons Israel and the US lobbied so hard to stop the vote or at least reduce the majority. The UK predictably flitted around like a perfidious white butterfly; first on one side, then on the other and then on no side.
The current situation requires concentrated attention by concerned lawyers to assist in collating a viable case in relation to one or more of the many grave violations, either against Israeli Government officials or against others who provide assistance or services (ie facilitation, Article 25 Rome Statute).
For example under the founding statute of the ICC, grave violations of the Geneva Conventions (civilian settlements in occupied territories – 4th Geneva Convention) are war crimes. The illegality of the settlements is irrefutable. The Palestinian Authority could, with its enhanced status, apply to renew its certificate of accession to the ICC with the UN Sec Gen. This should trigger investigations on the basis that Israeli domestic courts are failing to address this issue. (See HRC above)
Then there is the Crime of Apartheid. (HRC above) The Security Council is unlikely to refer a case to the ICC while the US has the veto. However the GA could request an advisory opinion from the ICJ as a precursor to action by others including the PA. The ICC oversight body: the Assembly of States Parties, could also bring its influence to bear.
The list goes on…
A legal intifada (the Israeli authorities have coined the phrase ‘lawfare’)
Step one: Identifying the political and commercial entities which collaborate with the illegal regime in the OPT. This was accomplished by RTP in Barcelona vis a vis the European Union and in London re corporations generally.
Step two: Identifying the legal actions at a local level.
These steps are addressed in detail in the London Report p21 onwards and particularly p24- 28 which list and name the entities (over 30).
Additionally Pluto Press published a fine book by Asa Winstanley and Frank Barat with a Foreword by Alice Walker, entitled Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation. It is based on the evidence at the London hearings.
In order to formulate this material, groups and networks on the ground have come together at the hearings and subsequently to exchange ideas and information. It has provided renewed momentum across the spectrum and a number of suits are ongoing.
This is exemplified best by the BDS movement which has grown in stature over the last decade and the organisation of International Apartheid Week.
Both BDS South Africa and BDS Sweden provide regular updates and it is obvious that real inroads are being made.
Just now there is news of the success of Dump the VEOLIA BUG in the US.
Last year Russell sent emissaries to Canada, London, Sweden and SA. Another visited the World Social Forum in Brazil.
Cite two recent updates for BDS Sweden newsletters 13 and 14; and another from SA.
ACROSS THE DIVIDE
Enduring and extensive bridges have been built between a range of remarkable individuals across the globe.
It begins with courageous frontline workers in Palestine and Israel and the prodigious Palestinian people themselves, and reaches out to a network of activists who have given or risked their lives to bring humanitarian aid to a beleaguered people; to lawyers who have devoted time and energy in the provision of advice; to academics who have dared to speak out; to a multitude of prominent individuals – writers, musicians, actors, journalists, artists, film makers – all of whom have come together in an act of seamless solidarity.
They have faced off the abuse, the personal attacks orchestrated by the Zionist lobby which are nothing compared to the bullet, the tank or the white phosphorous…
The goal is simple and rooted in law – the fulfilment of self determination.
No one can be in any doubt that the full extent of this legacy is yet to be discovered. Seeds have been sown, and have been blown into corners of the earth far beyond the compass of military suppression.
In the end the word will be mightier than the sword and ultimately the Russell Tribunal will be seen to have been on the right side of history.
17 March 2013