By J. S. Tissainayagam –
Competitive, state-centred international politics are often a barrier for victims of human rights violations to find redress through global judicial institutions. To circumvent some of these restrictions the civil society-led International War Crimes Tribunal was founded by Bertrand Russell in 1967 to try the United States and its allies for war crimes against the Vietnamese people.
The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT) was established by Lelio Basso in Bologna in 1979 with similar ideals in mind. PPTs are civil society initiatives that use international legal standards, legal reasoning and procedure such as analysing evidence, but are not limited by constraints of formal judicial systems – both national and international – that bar calling certain witnesses or adopting non-legal norms.
Since PPTs are civil society initiatives they lack the rigour and legitimacy that national and international judicial institutions possess. Moreover, their verdicts cannot be enforced. But a tribunal’s verdict, because it is a collective opinion of a group of judges and the product of legal reasoning, has binding moral authority.