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From December 8 to 12,2000, a peoples' tribunal, the Women's International War Crimes Tribunal 2000, sat in Tokyo, Japan. It was established to consider the criminal liability of leading high-ranking Japanese military and political officials and the separate responsibility of the state of Japan for rape and sexual slavery as crimes against humanity arising out of Japanese military activity in the Asia Pacific region in the 1930s and 1940s.

The immediate background to the tribunal's establishment was a series of events commencing in 1988 when the women's movement in the Republic of Korea began to learn of the research of Professor Yun Chung-Ok. For many years Professor Yun had investigated the brutal and relentless treatment women had received at the hands of the Japanese military in the so- called comfort stations that had accompanied Japanese military operations before and during the Second World War. Women's organizations in South Korea sought the further details that soon emerged. Elderly women from across Asia began to speak out, in most cases breaking fifty years of silence in which they had suffered isolation, shame, in many cases extreme poverty, and often physical and mental ill health as a result of the injuries they had incurred. The first lawsuit for damages and compensation was filed in japan in 1991. The issue was first raised at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in 1992, and subsequently before other UN bodies. Public hearings were held in Tokyo and again at the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights in 1993. The International Commission of Jurists issued a research report that itemized these events, examined documentary evidence, collected survivors' testimony, and provided legal analysis.


Copyright American Journal of International Law 2001. Reproduced with permission.