In the aftermath of war and conflict, there are often trials and court cases to prosecute those who have committed war crimes and other atrocities.
While the perpetrators might be brought to justice in official courts, the victims are too often left without any sense of justice at all.
That’s where Peoples’ Tribunals come into play.
These bodies have been constituted at different times and in different places around the world for a broad range of reasons, including as a response to war and conflict.
However, if peoples’ tribunals are already addressing the shortcomings of official courts, what explains the proliferation of women’s courts, sometimes addressing the same issues?
They include the Tokyo Women’s Tribunal (2000) set up to investigate the Japanese military’s use of ‘comfort women’, the Women’s Hearings in Cambodia (2011-2013) and the Women’s Court for the countries of the former Yugoslavia held in Sarajevo in 2015.
UTS Law academic, Dr Gabrielle Simm’s research evaluates the importance of such bodies and the differences between official courts, peoples’ tribunals and women’s courts in ensuring that victims feel heard and vindicated.
Such tribunals have the potential to act as safe spaces in which women whose rights have been violated have the opportunity to tell their stories on their own terms, rather than having their testimony truncated into questions and answers to conform to the rules of evidence.
They also function as more than just an event – they become a process which can attract broad media coverage and focus attention on previously under-reported issues.
Unofficial tribunals appear to regard law as capable of doing both justice and injustice and see themselves as stepping into the breach to provide justice where official courts have failed to do so.
Peoples Tribunals and Women’s Courts remedy the defects in state-based law, making it more complete.
In other words, they fill the need for a different kind of justice.
This research is the subject of one chapter in Peoples’ Tribunals and International Law (Cambridge University Press, UK, 2018) edited by Andrew Byrnes (UNSW Law) and Gabrielle Simm. You can watch the book launch on YouTube.
If you are interested in undertaking research on this topic, take a look at our postgraduate law research degrees.