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Opening Remarks
by Ms. Heisoo Shin, Vice-Chairperson, United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening to all of you. I feel honoured to be invited to your opening of Tribunal Wanita, and thank you very much to the organisers! Good to see on screen Shanthi Dairiam and Zainah Anwar, and many friends in Malaysia such as Ivy Josiah. I learned the word ‘wanita’ in Bahasa Malaysia, from the animation video of the Tribunal that I already watched a few times from your website. My big congratulations to you all, for convening this Women’s Tribunal today.

I myself have been an activist all my life. I believe women’s human rights have been achieved through tireless efforts of activism in the past and present, and will continue to progress in the future with our efforts as well. Needless to say, today’s Tribunal Wanita is one of such great efforts.

In the year 2000, in December, we convened a Women’s Tribunal in Tokyo. At that time, one of the organisations I was working with was the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan. The official name of the Tokyo Tribunal was a long one: "Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal for the Trial of Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery”. The Tokyo Tribunal was organised by the concerted efforts of women’s movement organisations in 10 countries — both North and South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and China, the Philippines, Indonesia, East Timor and the Netherlands, as well as Malaysia. We have prepared for the Tribunal for almost three years. Altogether, 1,100 people gathered in the Tokyo Tribunal, including the 64 survivors of the Japanese military sexual slavery. 

Looking back on it, it was a miracle in every sense. First, it was the largest gathering of the survivors themselves from different countries. Second, North and South Korean organisations worked together to produce a common indictment, despite the confrontational political relationships between the two Koreas. Third, we were successful in drawing the attention of the media. I worked at that time in the Media Team, and dealt with the journalists and reporters from all around the world. I gave press conferences two times a day — one in English and one in Korean language, every day during the five-day Tribunal. Outside of the venue, there were demonstrations and loudspeakers by the Japanese right wing, blaming us as liars and shouting that the ‘comfort women’ were prostitutes.

Last year was the 20th anniversary of the Tokyo Women’s Tribunal, and many commemorative events and forums were held, reflecting on the achievements and remaining tasks. Among the achievements, most importantly, there have been changes in people’s perceptions of the ‘comfort women’: military sexual slavery was a crime against humanity; it was not the fault of the victims but the perpetrators were guilty. At the same time, the ‘comfort women’ themselves have changed also — many of them were transformed from a victim to an activist. But those were possible because there existed strong women’s and social movements in raising the issue, supporting the victims and survivors, and demanding justice and changes in the laws and policies. It is important to create safe spaces for the suffering women to speak out so that they would feel safe and know that there is strong support for them. 

In the Women’s Tribunal Malaysia today and tomorrow, there will be testimonies of women whose rights are being violated. I believe their experiences of discrimination and violence will be taken up by the CEDAW Committee. Unfortunately, as an expert on the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, I cannot use those testimonies in the examination of Malaysia in my Committee, because Malaysia still did not ratify the important treaty monitored by my committee — the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Malaysia did not ratify the other Covenant on Civil and Political Rights either. So please work towards ratifications of these two core international human rights treaties. This is an additional homework for you.

With this request, I would like once again to congratulate you, the organisers, the witnesses, the three judges, the participants, the supporters as well as all the volunteers and reporters, who would make this Tribunal a success. I am sending my love and respect in solidarity with you for your continued efforts to advance women’s human rights in Malaysia, Asia and in the world. 

Thank you. 감사합니다.

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