Apr 102013



Yayori Matsui

Chairperson, Violence Against Women in War Network –  Japan


I.  Women break silence and show hope


The 20th century was a century of war and violence; however, during its last decade women who were victimized by war came out to tell about their painful experience of sexual violence.  In the early 1990s, “comfort women” who survived Japan’s military sexual slavery before and during World War II broke silence for the first time, and around the same time, women who suffered from mass rape in the ethnic cleansing during civil war in former Yugoslavia also came forward.  Both survivors of Asia and Balkan linked to each other and appealed to the whole world to end impunity for wartime sexual violence.

Violence Against War Network, Japan (VAWW-NET Japan) proposed to hold Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery which was held in Tokyo in December 2000. It was a people’s tribunal held by global civil society in search for gender justice.  It had two objectives: firstly, to establish criminal responsibility of individuals and state responsibility for Japan’s military sexual slavery and other gender violence committed in the past in order to put pressure on the Japanese government to take legal responsibility, and secondly, to address the issue of universal concern of ending the cycle of impunity for wartime sexual violence against women and to urge all states to take measures to prevengt its repetition in the future.  After one year, the final judgment was rendered in the Hague in December 2001.

The courage of women survivors and global women’s solidarity which made Women’s Tribunal successful showed clearly women could play a vital role in restoring gender justice, creating peace and providing home for future.

Those women who have been victimized by sexual violence of US military around the US military bases also made remarkable contribution for peace.  Women in Okinawa, North and South Korea, and the Philippines formed the East Asia-US-Puerto Rico Women’s Network Against Militarism and have questioned whose security if a large number of women and children are sexually assaulted in every day life and have searched for genuine non-military security.  They condemn both globalization of market economy and globalization of militarism.

Armed conflicts are taking place now in many parts of Asia and women are always the primary targets of sexual violence.  Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development(APWLD) recently organized a workshop on Gender and Identity Politics in Bali, Indonesia; participants reported how identity politics based on fundamentalism, nationalism, ethno-centrism and other extremist ideologies have caused bloody conflicts; they confirmed that the root cause of such conflicts was globalization which aggravates poverty and injustice and anti-globalization activities should be strengthened.


II. Criticizing US Global Militarism


It was hoped that, after the 20th century full of war, genocide and violence, the 21st century would be a century of non-violence and peace; however, the hope was miserably shattered in the first year when terrorist attack ruined thousands of lives in the US and President Bush who viewed it as war, not as an international crime, launched a global war of retaliation against terrorism by bombing Afghanistan, causing thousands of deaths of Afghan civilians and expanding its military action in many other parts of the world.  He declared to the whole world the year 2002 as “the year of war.”

Such US military policy has been supported and cooperated by most of the states, not only of the West including Japan but also other big powers, Russia and China. 

It is vitally important to provide persuasive and clear reasons to criticize Bush’s War on Terrorism.  The following reasons have been mentioned by various anti-war women’s and human rights groups:




  • Global militarization by the US is linked to its initiative of promoting globalization of market economy; in other words, the US wants to wage war in order to protect its economic interests such as industrial-military complex or oil industry.
  • The US military intervention in Afghanistan apparently violates the UN Charter, international law, especially international human rights law which requires states to prosecute and punish those who have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity.  The US has been trying to block the International Criminal Court to function in spite of more than sixty countries have ratified, it shows the US wants to wage war with immunity for their soldiers.  It is frightening, because the US military men rape and commit other crimes around its military bases based in Okinawa, Korea and other countries.
  • Bush didn’t hide his racist theory against Islam world; actually he wanted to fight non-Western different civilization. He named North Korea as “Axis of Evil”, together with Iran and Iraq.  A Korean expert speculated the reason that North Korea was included; just like South Korean Army was requested to join the Vietnam War by the US in order to blur the image of war between white Western giants and little Asians, now Bush tried to avoid such similar image of war between America and Islam by including a non-Muslim state.
  • The US wants to make use of local conflicts caused by identity politics in order to increase its military influence to suppress them.  For example, the US recently made a decision to provide military assistance to Indonesia to support the Indonesian militar which may hinder the process of democratization after the fall of Suharto.  The US also intends to take military action in the name of humanitarian intervention, using Kosovo as an example.
  • The US and many other governments supporting the US war on terrorism have recently introduced anti-terrorist bills which curtail human rights and civil freedom of people and discriminate especially immigrants and other minorities.
  • Women not only suffer all kinds of gender violence in armed conflicts but also they are used by the US to justify its military intervention.  Bush’s wife who was never known as an advocate of women’s rights suddenly criticized the Taliban saying, ” The fight against terrorists is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women.”  The rhetoric of “liberating Afghan women” as justification of military attack to kill thousands of women, children and civilians cannot be accepted.  Before September 11 attack, the US government had deaf ears to the desperate appeal from Afghan women under fundamentalists’ rule.
  • The US war policy is supported by media which is totally one-sided: it invokes patriotism in support of any military action or domestic repressive measures promoted by the US government in the name of anti-terrorism and it hardly reports the reality of deaths and destruction caused by US bombing in Afghanistan. Since the US media is dominating the whole world, it has extremely serious impact.
  • Globalization is spreading the US consumerist values and militarist culture to the whole world.   In the US, ordinary people are allowed to possess weapons and militarism is seen in daily life from Hollywood cinema and popular TV programs to computer games and toys.  Manliness, fighting, power and violence are glorified in communities and families in the US and people are hardly motivated to resist the government’s military action.


III. New Principles and Ideas


In order to take action against the US global war policy, we need to have principles. Recent women’s anti-war activities such as Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal and East Asia-US Women’s Network Against Militarism have offered the following principles.


    1)  People’s Sovereignty


The US must abide by international law; it should be held responsible for its violation. In case states don’t fulfill obligation, people have the rights to prosecute those responsible.  A people’s tribunal based on people’s sovereignty instead of state sovereignty may have moral authority.  International law should be transferred from state to people.


    2)  Gender Justice


War time sexual violence used to be neglected by international law and its perpetrators were hardly prosecuted, partly due to silence of its victims.  Such culture of impunity for war crimes against women should be terminated in order to ensure gender justice and prevent its recurrence.  International law should be reformed from male oriented to gender sensitive.  The International Criminal Court Statute includes clear definition of war crimes against women and crimes against humanity which should be utilized as soon as the ICC is established.


    3)  Demilitarized Security


The Sept. 11 attack dramatically demonstrated military security of the US which spends huge defense expenditure that could not guarantee security of its own people.  Those women who have been victimized by the US military sexual violence in the name of security challenged the concept of security itself and redefined security: from national military security to people’s and women’s demilitarized genuine security.


    4)  Non-Violence


The vicious circle of violence has been demonstrated in recent conflicts from Northern Ireland to Palestine as well as Bush’s state terrorism which is called war against terrorism.  In order to change thism, militarist culture behind such violence should be changed to culture of non-violence.  Rejecting joining the military should be promoted.


    5)  Global People’s Solidarity


Recent conflicts have clearly showed that the military of nation states hardly protected their own people; on the contrary, more people have been killed by their own military than by foreign military in Asia after World War II.  It is vitally important to overcome national boundaries and form anti-war networks across nation states in order to confront global borderless military power. Globalization of economy and militarism must be resisted by globalization of people’s and women’s solidarity.


IV. Proposed Action From Local to Global


It is vitally important to combine day grass roots action in local level and transnational global joint action.


  • Circulating anti-war voices and messages through alternative media, including internet locally and globally, because mainstream media in any country hardly reports them.
  • Fact finding missions should be sent to the areas affected by the US military action or local conflicts to document the facts, especially reality of women and children that tends to be neglected.
  • Lobbying, petition, signature campaign, peace march, human chain, exhibition and other demonstration to express all kinds of demands against war including removing US military presence.
  • Legal action and court struggle to end culture of impunity and support for victimized people ranging from counseling to reparation.
  • Tax boycotting to reduce military expenditure.
  • Media campaign and alternative media.
  • Women should play a positive role in prevention, promoting peace process and negotiation among conflicting parties and post conflict reconstruction process (The UN Security Council Resolution 1325).
  • Defending minority ethnic, religious and other minority rights.
  • Promoting research and education based on human rights and gender justice.  Reforming history education that justifies past crime or glorifies national/ethnic and religious identities.
  • Action against globalization for a more just world.






The date posted here is due to our website rebuild, it does not reflect the original date this article was posted. This article was originally posted in Yonip in 2002




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