John Dugard writes: This week, the Russell Tribunal on Palestine will consider the question of whether Israel’s practices in the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT) constitute the crime of apartheid within the meaning of the 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. This Convention, which has been incorporated into the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, is not confined to apartheid in South Africa. Instead it criminalises, under international law, practices that resemble apartheid.
The Russell Tribunal was initiated in the 1960s by the philosopher Bertrand Russell to examine war crimes committed during the Vietnam War. It has now been revived to consider Israel’s violations of international law. It is not a judicial tribunal, but a tribunal comprising reputable jurors from different countries, that seeks to examine whether Israel has violated international criminal law and should be held accountable.
In essence, the Russell Tribunal is a court of international public opinion. It will hear evidence in Cape Town on the scope of the 1973 Apartheid Convention, on apartheid as practiced in South Africa, on Israeli practices in the OPT, particularly the West Bank, and on the question whether these practices so closely resemble those of apartheid as to bring them within the prohibitions of the 1973 Apartheid Convention. The Israeli government has been invited to testify before the tribunal, but, at this stage, has not replied to the invitation. Most of the evidence will inevitably, therefore, be critical of Israel.
Israel cannot be held accountable for its actions by any international tribunal as it refuses to accept the jurisdiction of either the International Court of Justice or the International Criminal Court. The Russell Tribunal seeks to remedy this weakness in the international system of justice by providing for accountability by a court of international opinion. It does not seek to obstruct the peace process. On the contrary, it wishes to promote it. But there can be no peace without justice.