In the late 1960s Russell-Sartre Tribunal gathered a group of philosophers, lawyers, activists and historians to assess the culpability of the United States for war crimes committed in Vietnam. While traditionally dismissed by commentators as a “show trial,” the gathering provided inspiration for numerous twentieth and twenty-first century “peoples’ tribunals.” This article argues that both the legal and theoretical dimensions of the initial Tribunal’s work have been underappreciated. Specially, the piece builds on Talal Asad’s theory of “ritual” to show how the tribunal cultivated participants’ and onlookers’ sensibilities and encouraged a political practice of vigilance in examining the military actions of powerful states. The work of the first Russell-Sartre Tribunal envisioned a novel model for thinking about alternative forms of international criminal accountability, and helped constitute an activist, international public that—despite the absence of state recognition—still spoke in the language of international law.


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pp. 75-91
Launched on MUSE
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