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.
The Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal for the Trial of Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery, held on December 8-10, 2000, was organized by three civil society organizations – the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Sexual Slavery by Japan, ASCENT in the Philippines, and VAW-Net Japan – with a number of other collaborating groups. This Tokyo Women’s Tribunal included testimony and documentation from women in eight countries and sought to state what justice should be done according to international law as well as to create a fuller and more accurate historical record regarding the comfort women. Unlike previous public hearings, the Tribunal was “designed to resemble the formal processes of a court….with the naming of specific military and government figures….establishing responsibility for the crimes… committed and/or condoned.”
The Women’s Tokyo Tribunal unveiled many of the atrocities committed against the comfort women – a system that was meticulously documented by the JIA – and the findings point directly to the political responsibility of the Emperor of Japan. The findings of the Tribunal stand as a people’s judgment and provided an important measure of alternative justice for the women affected. A one day Public Hearing on Crimes Against Women in Recent Wars and Conflicts was held December 11, 2000 while the judges completed their judgement. It was organized by the Women’s Caucus for Gender Justice, and linked the issue of the abuse of the “comfort women” to rape and violence against women in current conflicts in places like Colombia, Burundi, and Afghanistan, demonstrating the importance of hearings and tribunals to the on-going work of feminists to expose and demand accountability for violence against women and war crimes that continue to this day.