Opening First Session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine: The Right to Self Determination 1Mar10 March 2, 2010

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The morning of the first session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine opened with a focus on the Palestinian right to self determination as enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1956.

The session was opened by Stephane Hessel, a co-author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Ambasador de France. He said,”We are acting in the name of every individual which has a responsibility to put pressure on international bodies to uphold international Law. We cannot allow for the impunity of those responsible for violations of international law to remain unchallenged.”

Pierre Galand from the organising committee for the Russell Tribunal on Palestine explained, A solution can come about through the mobilisation of public opinion, as was the case with civil society organisation against the Vietnam war and dictatorships in Latin America during the 70s. The purpose of the tribunal is to show the complicity of international states in the perpetuation of the ongoing violations of the rights of the palestinian people and to mobilise public opinion to end this.

Felicia Langer, Vicky Peña, Gustave Massiah, Pilar Sampietro, ánd Lluis Llach outlined international laws applicable to the Palestine-Israel context such as the Fourth Geneva Conventions 1949, and European Union Law including the articles enshrined within the EU-Israel Association Agreement signed in 1995, which places an obligation on Israel to respect human rights and democratic principles as well as adhere to economic production within 1967 borders.

Elementary principles of distinction between civilian and military objects, civilians and combatants and proportionality were represented.

The Jury for the Tribunal, comprised of eminent figures from the field of human rights law and campaigning, heard from Madjid Benchikh, Professor of International Law and Former Dean at the Faculty of Law, Algiers.

Asked by Jury Member barrister Michael Mansfield how states can legally respond to Israels wilfull and persistent non-compliance with international law, he responded with a suggestion of refering Israel to the UN Security Council for non-restitution of territories acquired by force following the 1967 war.

David Bondia, an Expert witness and Professor of Public International Law and International Relations at the University of Barcelona, presented on Israels use of domestic law to contradict and violate international law, including the use of military orders, prison policy and the use of military courts as a different and non-IHL compliant judicial system which violates the prohibition of Apartheid and negates the right to life.

He advocated for a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions strategy to pressure Israel into compliance with International Law, as was practised by grassroots movements around the world and mainly Eastern and African states with regards to Apartheid South Africa.

Daragh Murray from Ireland and recently returned from 18 months in Gaza, is a legal advisor for the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) in Gaza. Murray was representing the Director of PCHR Raji Sourani for this session as Raji was prevented from leaving Gaza by the closure regime imposed by Israel and enforced by Egypt and the international community. Daragh defined the denial of the right of self determination as a fundamental denial of the right to human dignity, choice and freedom, and Israels denial of this right as absolute.

He suggested applying the conditions demanded of Palestinian liberation movements by the Quartet (USA, EU, Russia, and the UN) onto Israel: Recognition of past agreements, recognition of Palestine and an end to attacks on civilians. Describing the conditions in Gaza he said 85% of the population is dependent on food aid, 80% live in poverty, unemployment is at 42% and the population of industrial workers has dropped from 65,000 in 2007 to 35,000 before Israels Operation Cast Lead in 2008 to 1878 now in 2010.

The number of people which PCHR has been able to establish clearly died due to Israels blockade is 26 although the figure has been estimated at much higher due to other variables such as chronic diseases and cancers which may have been pacified if treatment had been accessed.

The international boycott of the democratically elected government of the Hamas movement was cited as a striking example of the violation of the right to self deterrmination. The UN was also critiqued for possibly violating the principles of its own charter through its conduct within the quartet.

Making the violations of International Law with regards to Palestine a domestic issue – an electoral issue – in non-International Law compliant states within the EU was described as a key means to change policy. The European Court of Human Rights, Domestic Courts and Universal Jurisdiction were cited as mechanisms to enforce international law.

Russell Tribunal Jury members are: Maired Maguire, Cynthia McKinney, Gisele Halimi, Aminata Traore, Ronnie Kasrils, Alberto San Juan, Michael Mansfield, Arcadi Oliveres, Jose Antonio Martin Pallin.

For interviews contact: Frank 00 447718998695

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