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Case #145

An Alternative to The Power of Dominant Law


How do we police transnational corporations if the legal processes are manipulated by them?  Academic and activist legal circles like to discuss the law as a `site of struggle'. Some successes may be achieved: an errant employer brought to justice; a corporation fined for its polluting practices; compensation paid for illnesses caused by unsafe working environments. These are important victories. But the vast majority of people cannot afford to gain a hearing - let alone reparation - for their suffering.

Prompted by this realization, new initiatives for the `doing of law' have emerged, providing an alternative to the power of dominant law. One example is the Permanent People's Tribunal (PPT).


THE STRATEGY:  Create a legal venue for people who ordinarily cannot access the courts/legal system, which gives them and their situations and grievances a voice.

WHAT WORKS:   (1) The PPT has emerged as an enduring site for an alternative judgement of wrongs. It refuses to accept the power of law to negate the suffering of peoples by normalizing violence, naming it a `misfortune'. As Bertrand Russell identified, the struggle is against the `crime of silence' which enables the powerful to silence the voices of pain through the processes of politics and law-in the courts, in the legislative bodies of state, in international negotiations, in the media, in education. (2) This means giving priority to marginalized voices. No cause of peoples' struggle is outside PPT jurisdiction. 

IMPORTANT POINTS: (1) The roots of the PPT lie in the Bertrand Russell War Crimes Tribunal - originally an activist initiative to indict the US Government for the war in Vietnam. Based in Rome, its legal philosophy derives from the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1976 Algiers Declaration on the Rights of Peoples (primarily led by activists of the Third World).  (2) It is true that the PPT has no power to compel the `accused' to appear before it, nor to enforce its judgment. Rather, it serves as a legitimating forum. Its judgments stand as a public record of the truth -and of the crime of denial. The doing of law for the PPT is essentially a process of listening, giving to the narratives of suffering the dignity denied them elsewhere. (3) The PPT is by no means the only people's tribunal. Others include the International Pepple's Tribunal, the Indian People's Tribunal, the African Court of Women and the Ka Ho'okolokolonui Kanaka Maoli (the People's International Tribunal of the Native Hawaiian). With varying degrees of innovation, they perform the difficult task of `speaking truth to power'. The task is difficult because such tribunals belong neither to the world of dominant law nor to grassroots communities. They function as an intermediary, translating the demands of the violated into language that is comprehensible to the dominant sectors of society straddling the worlds of the oppressed and the oppressor. (4) This creates a dilemma. To be heard within dominant political and legal circles, the conventions of the law as prescribed by the powerful need to be complied with. But these are precisely what disable the majority. Rethinking law requires the learning of lessons from other sources. (5) Here I (the author of the article) believe there is potential for a more radical agenda. The Full Text lists several with relevant details of the structure of each. (6) This reclaiming of the voice of judgment represents a significant challenge to the power of corporations and governments to define the economic good of society. I (the author of the article) believe this heralds a new politics of law. The challenge is to recognize these expressions of people's judgments as law, truly of the people, by the people, for the people.

Location: global
Action: Legal, Political
Setting: Developed World, Semi-Developed, Third World, Worldwide
Extent of Action: Local
Issues: Human Rights
Year(s): 2000
Outcome in progress
Source: New Internationalist, 330, December 2000


e-mail at: lasbd@dredd.csv.warwick.ac.uk

Prepared By: sl, 9/10
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