On July 4, 1976, on the initiative of Lelio Basso, the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Peoples was adopted in Algiers. This was the outcome of a complex process, coinciding with the conclusion – with a few exceptions – of the thirty-year decolonization process, which had started at the end of the Second World War.
With the foundation of the United Nations in 1945, the reaffirmation of the “Nuremberg Principles” by the UN Assembly in 1946, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights approved in 1948, a sort of revolution had taken place in the international order: the principles of peace, human rights and self-determination had become a part of international law.
However, due to the lack of an effective international jurisdiction to guarantee respect for this profoundly altered international order, the “International War Crimes Tribunal” was set up in 1966. This opinion tribunal, founded by Bertrand Russell and Jean Paul Sartre, with the participation of well-known intellectuals and law experts of the time, including Lelio Basso, became known as the Russell Tribunal. A similar institution was set up on the initiative of Lelio Basso, the so-called “Russell Tribunal II on Latin America”, active from March 1974 to January 1976. This institution had a vast impact and stimulated large scale support.
From the experience of these two original initiatives stemmed the conviction that it had become necessary to draft a text collecting the norms and the principles, deriving from the interpretation of international law in force at the time, based on which the opinion tribunals had operated. The purpose of the text would be to lay these norms and principles out in a coherent and systematic way.
The Algiers conference, promoted by the Lelio Basso International Foundation for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples, and by the International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples, arose from the collaboration of law experts, economists and politicians, coming from both industrialized and developing countries; of numerous non-governmental organizations, and also of important representatives of the international movement for the promotion of peoples’ rights.
Algiers was chosen for specific reasons: Algiers was a strategic reference point for the non-aligned countries; it was the capital of a nation that had fought hard for its independence, in a continent that had many countries still fighting for their political and economic independence. The date in which the Declaration was published was chosen because it coincided with the bicentenary of the Philadelphia Declaration, in which the representatives of the thirteen English colonies approved the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America written by Thomas Jefferson, proclaiming their right to be free and independent from the English Crown.
This is how the Universal Declaration of the rights of peoples came into being. It was immediately signed by over 80 political and cultural figures around the world. Starting from the belief that “the effective respect for human rights implies respect of the rights of peoples”, the Algiers Declaration lists people’s rights in thirty articles that codify the right to a national and cultural identity, the right to self-determination, economic rights, the right to culture, the right to the environment and to common resources, minority rights and the guarantees to these rights.
The Algiers Declaration is the basis for activity of the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal, active since 1979, imagined by Lelio Basso as a forum allowing peoples to speak. With its 42 sessions dedicated to the violation of human rights in various parts of the world, the PPT has become a practical observatory monitoring the validity, relevance, weakness, impotence, need for and possibility of renewing the principles that had inspired it. A laboratory interpreting international law and the unacceptability of impunity for its violation.