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Public hearings and mock tribunals

Last edited: January 03, 2012

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Mock tribunal

A mock tribunal is an event usually staged by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to mobilize public opinion on human rights violations that do not receive effective attention in the national court system.


Example: The Nigerian women’s human rights group BAOBAB and the Civil Resource Development and Documentation Centre organized the first National Tribunal on Violence against Women on March 14th 2002 in the capital city of Abuja. The tribunal was unofficial and not legally binding, but the testimonies would be real – 33 women were selected to testify. Some of them had volunteered, and many agreed to share their experiences when they realized this may have a positive impact on their families and communities. They testified about their experience of violence from the state, in the home, and from society as a whole.

The judges were selected based on their prominence and their concern for women’s rights. They included two Supreme Court Justices, several heads of NGOs, and prominent lawyers. The tribunals were open to the public, and the organizers took special care to invite journalists, police, commissioners, and other groups. Different types of human rights abuses were grouped into different sessions. The panel of judges listened, asked questions, and after the testimonies, they convened in private. Afterwards, rather than passing a sentence, as in a regular trial, the judges made a public policy proclamation.

The testimonies were very moving for the audience, and the attendance of journalists led to wider public awareness of the tribunals. Locally, the tribunals have helped to get state legislation passed against female genital mutilation. On a national level, their impact has helped advance a domestic violence bill. More generally, the tribunals have created greater public awareness that abuses against women do exist, and that they are serious.

Source: Fijabi, M. 2004. A Mock Tribunal to Advance Change: the National Tribunal on Violence Against Women in Nigeria, on New Tactics in Human Rights.


Other resources on mock tribunals:

Justice for Survivors of Sexual Offences of the Post Election Violence in Kenya (African Women and Children and Coalition On Violence Against Women, 2008).

Women Testify: A Planning Guide for Popular Tribunals & Hearings developed by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership.  Available online in English. To view the guide, go to the red bar at the top of the page and click on each chapter.

Public hearings

This term generally refers to Court hearings or public meetings convened by government agencies, where members of the public can air their views and concerns on a designated issue. On some occasions, public hearings have been used as campaign tools: if public institutions are not responsive to a public demand, a campaign alliance may stage its own public hearing.

An example of a public hearing was the ground-breaking hearing held in December 1992 in Tokyo, where survivors of sexual slavery and supportive organizations presented the plight of “Comfort Women”, who had been enslaved by the Japanese military during World War II. As a result of these efforts and legal action throughout the region, the Japanese government issued a carefully worded apology (1993), and set up an “Asia Women’s Fund” for atonement in the form of material compensation to survivors

Source: Defending Women Defending Rights.