The Tribunal has heard a wide range of cases and violations of human and peoples’ rights, which can be grouped into thematic areas that include the main sessions and judgments carried out since 1979.
The spectrum of cases and judgments referred to in this first thematic group includes decolonisation cases (Western Sahara, 1979; Eritrea, 1980; East Timor, 1981; Puerto Rico, 1989), internal self-determination issues (Argentina, 1980; Philippines, 1980; El Salvador, 1981; Zaire, 1982; Guatemala, 1983) and external aggression (Afghanistan I and II, 1981, 1982; Nicaragua, 1984). This thematic area includes the cases of peoples who are considered national minorities, such as the cases of Armenia (1984), the Brazilian Amazon (1990) and Tibet (1992) and, finally, the work on the former Yugoslavia (1995), from the analysis of which emerged an exacerbation of the right to self-determination that, according to the Tribunal, must consider the respect for fundamental rights.
The Tribunal has devoted numerous sessions to structural causes that violate the self-determination of peoples. This thematic strand includes documentation on the responsibilities of States, international institutions and economic actors, mainly international financial agencies and transnational corporations, in the violation of human and peoples’ rights. It is a long list of sessions ranging from those on the policies of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank (1989; 1994), on Bophal (1992; 1994) and Chernobyl (1996) disasters, to the more recent ones on transnational corporations in Colombia (2006-2008), Latin America (2006-2010; 2014), and free trade policies in Mexico (2011-2014). Sessions on pesticide companies (2011), on large-scale works in Europe (2015), on decent wages for women workers in the garment industry (2011-2015), on transnational corporations in sub-Saharan African countries (2016-2018), on fracking and climate change (2018) and, finally, on the Brazilian Cerrado (2019-2022) are part of the same group. The documentation and analysis made available by the PPT document the non-occasional nature of the abuses committed, which the Tribunal qualified, depending on the case, in the terms of crimes against humanity, economic and corporate crimes, environmental and systemic crimes.
Analyses on impunity have gradually become a central and transversal element of all the Tribunal’s sessions, thanks to the doctrinal contribution provided by the session on crimes against humanity in Latin America (1981-1991) committed during the transition from dictatorial regimes and situations of armed conflict. The session on The Conquest of America and the Origins of International Law (1992), on the other hand, can be considered a unique methodological and doctrinal resource applicable to the entire PPT work. It highlighted how the mechanisms of domination conceived in the early 16th century in the name of freedom of trade (jus communicationis) have not ceased to adapt to the power relations, economic and financial domination taking place in the world market. Part of this group of sessions is the reflection on the return of war in the 1990s as an instrument for resolving conflicts between States (2002). The session analysed the then ongoing crisis in international relations and international law, its political causes, the dangers to world order and possible responses to it.
Particular attention should be paid to the frequency with which the PPT has adopted the qualification of genocide in its rulings, from the case of Armenia (1984), Guatemala (1983), through the case on the former Yugoslavia (1995), to the more recent sessions on the Tamils in Sri Lanka (2010; 2013; 2022), the Rohingya in Myanmar (2017) and Colombia (2021-2022). The PPT gathered insights into the political, economic and cultural implications arising from the absence of formal recognition of genocide. The hesitation of the relevant international institutions in this area confirms the need to explore the steps to be taken to affirm the right to life and self-determination of peoples as the cornerstone of an international order founded on the principles of human rights and democracy.
The sessions on the rights of children and adolescents (1995;1999) inaugurated the topic of violations affecting groups of people and communities beyond States’ national borders. More recent cases include the Session on migrants and refugees (2017-2020), which analysed the consequences of EU and Member State policies with regard to issues such as externalisation of borders, criminalisation of solidarity, health and labour. The sessions focused on the joint responsibilities of each State examined (Italy, France, Spain, the United Kingdom and Germany) and the European Union and were qualified using the expression “systemic crime”, which corresponds to “a sum of decisions taken over the years in different countries and which, for this reason, are not easily attributable to the responsibility of identified individuals, specific States, or specific companies”.