What Is The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal?

The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal, headquartered in Rome, is an internationally recognized civil society human rights tribunal functioning independently of state authorities. It applies internationally recognized human rights law and policy to cases brought before it. The PPT is a descendant of the 1967 Bertrand Russell-Jean Paul Sartre Vietnam War Crimes Tribunal, and it hears cases in which prima facie evidence suggests abridgement of basic rights of ordinary people.

PPT Sessions are virtually identical to courtroom proceedings in which a complainant or class of complainants brings an action against a government or private party and asks that they be judged against legal standards. The panel of judges in each Session is usually comprised of five to eleven members, about half of whom are jurists practiced in international human rights law and about half of whom are other highly respected members of civil society. The judges hear testimony from victims, witnesses and experts in various fields, hear arguments from prosecuting and defense attorneys, deliberate and in time issue findings and recommended remedies.

“The importance and strength of decisions by the PPT rest on the moral weight of the causes and arguments to which they give credibility, as well as the integrity and capability to judge of the Tribunal members.” The goal of PPT Sessions is “recovering the authority of the Peoples when the States and the International Bodies failed to protect the right of the Peoples.”

Complaints heard by the Tribunal are submitted by the victims or by groups or individuals representing them. The PPT calls together all parties concerned and offers defendants the opportunity to make their own arguments heard. The panel of judges is selected for each case by combining members who belong to a permanent list and individuals who are recognized for their competence and integrity.

From June 1979 to the present date the PPT has held some 44 Sessions whose results and judgements are available here.”

Some recent cases on which the PPT has conducted Sessions and rendered judgments include:

  1. Session on State Crimes Allegedly Committed in Myanmar against the Rohingyas, Kachins and Others, September 2017
  2. Peoples’ Tribunal on Sri Lanka, 7-10 December 2013, Bremen, Germany
  3. Session on Agrochemical Transnational Corporations, 3-6 December 2011, Bangalore, India.
  4. The European Union and Transnational Corporations in Latin America: Policies, Instruments and Actors Complicit in Violations of the Peoples’ Rights, 14-17 May 2010, Madrid, Spain.
  5. The Canadian Mining Industry Hearing on Latin America, 29 May – 1 June 2014, Montréal, Canada.

Purposes and benefits of PPT Sessions include:

  • Providing witnesses opportunity for their personal testimony to be heard, documented and entered into the public record;
  • Presenting and rehearsing testimony, arguments and law that can later be used in national and international courts;
  • Educating parties and the public about the human rights dimensions of actions undertaken by the defendants.
  • Issuing judicial findings that can be referenced in future court cases.

Primary differences between a Peoples’ Tribunal Session and national courts are that the Peoples’ Tribunal does not rely on state-based legal authority but instead acts independently of states, politics and vested interests. While its findings do not have the compulsory binding force of state-based courts, the legal standards against which defendants are judged are those expressed in broadly endorsed international human rights law.

Additionally, even among human rights tribunals, this particular PPT Session is unique in several ways.

Pre-PPT tribunals

Four preliminary human rights tribunals on various aspects of fracking and climate change have already been conducted prior to the plenary Session to be held in May.

The first pre-PPT tribunal was held in Athens, Ohio on May 13th, 2017 (The Athens News story here, report here); a second was held in Youngstown, Ohio on July 29th, 2017; a third was held in Charlottesville, Virginia on October 28th, 2017; and a fourth online pre-PPT tribunal was held in Australia during the months of January and February 2018.

All witness testimony from each preliminary tribunal has been video-recorded, transcribed and summarized in a written report. Those reports will be submitted to judges for review prior to the Tribunal. During the Tribunal in May representatives for each of those pre-tribunals will formally present and orally summarize their reports and then be available for questions from the judges about their tribunal.

Amicus curiae briefs

Amicus briefs have been submitted by a range of impacted persons and communities and by NGOs that work on oil and gas extraction issues and climate change.

Fully online format

This Tribunal Session will be conducted fully online using Zoom conferencing software. Judges, attorneys, witnesses and organizations submitting amicus briefs will be participating from locations around the globe. Reasons for using this format include that it 1) is less expensive, requires little or no travel and results in a much more limited carbon footprint; 2)  allows participation from a wider variety of witnersses, attorneys and judges when travel is not required; 3) can be recorded and streamed live for viewing from anywhere in the world, both in real time and in the future; and finally 4) if this pilot works well, then this online format can allow easier access to human rights tribunals by resource-poor communities everywhere.

Applies human rights standards to fracking and climate change

This will be the first tribunal that assesses fracking from a human rights perspective and the first to look at climate change through a human rights lens.

Requests an advisory opinion

This will be the first tribunal to petition the panel of judges for a formal advisory opinion on specific questions rather than to indict a defendant or defendants.