Russell Tribunal

From Academic Kids

The Russell Tribunal was a public international body organized by British philosopher and pacifist Bertrand Russell, along with Ken Coates and several others. It was designed to investigate and publicize war crimes and conduct of the American forces and its allies during the Vietnam War. The tribunal was constituted in November, 1966 and conducted over two sessions in 1967 in Stockholm, Sweden and Copenhagen, Denmark. It gained significant international attention, but was portrayed by the mainstream United States media as ineffectual, biased and a show trial.

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.


Tribunal members

  • 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
  • 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
  • Lazaro Cardenas- Former President of Mexico
  • Stokely Carmichael- Chairman, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
  • Lawrence Daly- General Secretary, UK National Union of Mineworkers. Socialist.
  • Dave 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- Author
  • 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.

Aims of the Tribunal

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:

  1. Has the United States Government (and the Governments of Australia, New Zealand and South Korea) committed acts of aggression according to international law?
  2. Has the American army made use of or experimented with new weapons or weapons forbidden by the laws of war?
  3. 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?
  4. 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?
  5. 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 exerpt 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

  1. Has the Government of the United States committed acts of aggression against Vietnam under the terms of international law? Yes (unanimously).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Is the Government of Thailand guilty of complicity in the aggression committed by the United States Government against Vietnam? Yes (unanimously).
  5. Is the Government of the Philippines guilty of complicity in the aggression committed by the United States Government against Vietnam? Yes (unanimously).
  6. 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.
  7. Has the United States Government committed aggression against the people of Laos, according to the definition provided by international law? Yes (unanimously).
  8. Have the armed forces of the United States used or experimented with weapons prohibited by the laws of war? Yes (unanimously).
  9. 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).
  10. Have the armed forces of the United States subjected the civilian population to inhuman treatment prohibited by international law? Yes (unanimously).
  11. 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.

Additional Reading

  • Against The Crime of Silence: Proceedings of The Russell International War Crimes Tribunal, edited by J. Duffett, O’Hare Books, New York, 1968

External links


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