The Russell Tribunal on Palestine will convene in District Six, Cape Town, site of a brutal apartheid-era forced removal. The land has remained undeveloped on the edge of the city since it was declared “a white group area” and the homes of black residents were demolished in the 1970s.
The Cape Town session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine – to be held on 5-6 November – will consider whether Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people fits the international legal definitions of the crime of apartheid.
In the jury, confirmed by international co-ordinator of the Tribunal, Mr Pierre Galand, at a press conference in Cape Town today, are:
• Mr Stephane Hessel, 93, the Nazi concentration camp survivor who helped draft the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. He is an Ambassador of the French Republic, and honorary president of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine; and
• Ms Alice Walker, the African American author, poet and human rights activist best known for the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Colour Purple.
The Cape Town session, in November 2011, follows sessions in Barcelona and London last year. The final session will take place in New York in 2012.
The Russell Tribunal on Palestine is an international people’s tribunal created in response to the international community’s inaction with respect to Israel’s recognised violations of international law.
Ms Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, activist, former South African cabinet minister and member of the South African Support Committee organising the Cape Town session, told today’s press conference that the United Nations and International Criminal Court findings that apartheid was unlawful and criminal did not only apply to apartheid South Africa.
Although there were clear differences between the State of Israel today and South Africa under apartheid, the question to be answered was whether the policies and practises of the State of Israel fit the international legal descriptions of the crime of apartheid.
“May this tribunal that is being held in our country later this year end the crime of silence,” Ms Madlala-Routledge said.
Mr Galand, a retired Senator from Belgium and lifelong human rights campaigner, said the fact that the Tribunal sought to engender human rights for Palestinians did not mean it had an anti-Semitic agenda. Many friends of the Tribunal were Jewish, he said, and many members of the Jewish faith were fierce proponents of human rights for all.
“I believe strongly the Russell Tribunal is an important contribution to the international civil society movement to rehabilitate international law, rehabilitate humanitarian law, and rehabilitate human rights,” Mr Galand said.
The Israel-Palestine conflict was central to global divisions between Europe/America and the Arab world, and between members of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths.
Because of the calibre of its patrons, members of the international support committee, jurors and witnesses, the findings of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine were used as important tools to lobby governments and international organisations, such as the European Union and United Nations.
Mr Ronnie Kasrils, former South African cabinet minister and juror of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, said that although South Africa had since 1994 taken a strong stance against human rights abuses in Israel, including withdrawing its ambassador for a period, many South Africans felt that the government could do even more.
“The world expects South Africa to champion the rights of other people. That is the yardstick for South Africans to live up to,” Mr Kasrils said.
Among South Africans who will participate in the Russell Tribunal on Palestine are Mrs Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and Professor John Dugard.