In the early 1990s, Asian women from several countries began to denounce their kidnapping and use as so-called “comfort women” in order to provide sexual services to the Japanese Imperial Army (JIA) during World War II. A number of civil society public hearings were held, especially in Korea where the largest number of victims came from, and in Japan and the Philippines. The UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women and other UN bodies also reported on this issue. However, justice for the comfort women - who never received a full apology and reparations from the Japanese government – had still not been achieved.
After decades of raising awareness on women's rights violations, organizers of the Global Tribunal sought to shift the focus from visibility of violence against women to accountability for those crimes. The tribunal marked the culmination of a series of hearings organized by CWGL and partner organizations entitled "From Vienna to Beijing: Building Human Rights Accountability to Women."
The Copenhagen Hearing on Economic Justice and Women’s Human Rights was held on March 7, 1995 as part of the NGO Forum at the United Nations World Summit on Social Development in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Organized by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) in collaboration with other organizations as the second tribunal after Vienna, the Cairo Hearing emphasized that a woman’s fundamental right to her health is a human right to bodily integrity that cannot be compromised by any actor claiming to have control over her body.
The Global Tribunal on Violations of Women’s Human Rights was a key feature of the Global Campaign for Women's Human Rights and of the many NGO activities organized at the Vienna Conference by women’s groups.
Regional movements and networks for women’s human rights challenged limited interpretations and applications of human rights, including at the official preparatory meetings for the Vienna Conference held by participating governments, where women sought to build momentum for the acceptance of women’s rights as human rights.
In August of 1992, international media began exposing the brutality of rape and forced pregnancy as weapons of war and ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia – in the heart of Europe. In response to this pressure, the UN Security Council created the International Criminal Tribunal on the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in 1993 and the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda (ICTR) in 1994. These became key venues for pursuing justice for crimes such as torture, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.
“The International Public Hearing Concerning Post-War Compensation of Japan,” held at Tokyo Panse Hall on Dec. 9, 1992 brought together “comfort women” and their supporters from several Asian countries, especially South Korea and the Philippines, where they had begun to speak out.
A loose coalition of hundreds of women's organizations from around the world, the Global Campaign for Women’s Human Rights kicked off in 1991 with a petition calling for the recognition that violence against women violates human rights.
The 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence Campaign was conceived as a strategy to build awareness about gender-based violence at the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute hosted by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) in 1991. The Campaign is an annual global movement calling attention to all forms of violence against women as human rights issues.