Published online by Cambridge University Press: 27 November 2013
Since the 1960s, over eighty international peoples’ tribunals have been established outside formal state and international structures. Many have drawn on the forms and procedures of state-sponsored international tribunals and investigated whether states, international organizations, and transnational corporations have violated established norms of international law, while also seeking to infuse it with more progressive values. This paper first provides an overview of the history of international peoples’ tribunals in Asia, then examines three tribunals that have focused on situations in Asia. We argue that not only do peoples’ tribunals respond to a perceived gap in official structures of accountability, but they also perform other functions. These include building solidarity and networks, and recording and memorializing otherwise unacknowledged experiences. Further, such tribunals not only engage in holding states and others accountable informally but also articulate claims about the right of civil society to “own”, interpret, and develop international law.
Senior Research Associate, Australian Human Rights Centre, Faculty of Law, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.
Professor of Law, Australian Human Rights Centre, Faculty of Law, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.
This paper is based on research supported under the Australian Research Council's Discovery Projects funding scheme (DP 110101594). An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Australian and New Zealand Society of International Law and Asian Society of International Law Joint Conference on International Law and Justice, Sydney, 25 October 2012. The authors gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Gianni Tognoni and Simona Fraudatario of the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal of the Lelio Basso International Foundation in facilitating the conduct of research for this paper.
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98. An effort to engage the jurisdiction was made in 2011 by the Swiss Council of Eelam Tamils and Tamils against Genocide, which requested the Prosecutor to open an investigation in relation to the alleged involvement of the Sri Lankan Ambassador to the United Nations, Palitha Kohona, a dual Sri Lankan and Australian national, in the killing of Tamil leaders, online: 〈www.tamilnet.com/img/publish/2011/02/SCETTAG_Prosecutor_v_Kohona_NoSLADep_TNet.pdf〉. The ICC website does not indicate any response from the Office of the Prosecutor to this request.
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107. Ibid., at 164.
108. The International Court of Justice might be regarded as an existing mechanism that has historically failed to play a role in international dispute resolution between states and peoples seeking to exercise the right to self-determination due to its restrictive rules on jurisdiction; cf. Accordance with International Law of the Unilateral Declaration of Independence in Respect of Kosovo  I.C.J. Rep. 403.
109. For example, evidence introduced in the Session on the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal on the European Union and Transnational Corporations in Latin America (Madrid, 14–15 May 2010) was filed with OECD contact points in Argentina and used in litigation in the US, UK, and Peru: Marcelo SAGUIER, “The Potential of Peoples’ Tribunals in Latin America to Pressure TNCs into Adopting Human Rights Responsibilities” (2010) Documento de Trabajo No. 41 Area de Relaciones Internacionales, FLASCO/Argentina, 19–20.
110. For example, the Session on the agrochemical industry “indicted” the six largest agrochemical TNCs—Monsanto, Dow, DuPont, Syngenta, Bayer, and BASF—for human rights violations: Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal, Session on Agrochemical Transnational Corporations, Bangalore, 3–6 December 2011, online: 〈http://www.internazionaleleliobasso.it/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/37.-English-version_TPP_Bangalore3Dec2011.pdf〉. Even if litigation had been brought against these corporations in their home states of the US, Switzerland, and Germany, it is unclear whether claims of human rights violations could have been brought against corporations.
111. For example, many peoples’ tribunals come from perspectives that are concerned about the injustices that result from globalization and the imbalances of political and economic power, and are critical of the role of international legal structures and norms that permit or even encourage such developments. One example is the role played by international law protecting intellectual property rights and the adverse impact this is claimed to have had on farmers and agriculture in developing countries, a theme explored at the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal on Agrochemical Transnational Corporations in Bangalore, 2011.
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113. The People's International Tribunal on Hawai'i used Hawaiian indigenous law, as well as international law and US law, as relevant sources: The People's International Tribunal, Interim Report, Kanaka Maoli Nation, Plaintiff v. United States of America, Defendant, Ka Ho'okolokolonui Kanaka Maoli, Hawai'i 1993 at 3.
115. Case Concerning East Timor (Portugal v. Australia)  I.C.J. Rep. 90.
116. Universal Declaration of the Rights of Peoples (the Algiers Declaration), adopted at Algiers, 4 July 1976, online: 〈http://www.algerie-tpp.org/tpp/en/declaration_algiers.htm〉.
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