BRIDGES: Sufferings of comfort women continue

FILIPINO comfort women, a Japanese euphemism for wartime sex slaves, continue to demand recognition and compensation from the Japanese government for sexual slavery its soldiers committed in World War II.

Lila Pilipina, an organization of former Filipino comfort women, recently staged a protest at the Japanese Embasy in Manila. They brought pictures of their deceased members, displayed placards with words such as “We were raped” and “We want justice” on them, and took turns telling their own stories.

About 97 of the original 174 members of Lila Pilipina are alive today.

The group is reiterating the urgency of recognition because the elderly members fear they will not live long enough to witness justice being served.

Within Japan, there is still a great controversy related to the usage of comfort women by the Japanese military, particularly in the areas of denial or minimization by Japanese politicians, activists and journalists.

Japanese historian and Nihon University professor Ikuhiko Hata estimates the number of comfort women to be more likely between 10,000 and 20,000.

However, some Japanese politicians have argued that the former comfort women’s testimonies are inconsistent and unreliable, making them invalid.

This is not how the Human Rights Committee, the body composed of independent experts that monitors implementation of the covenant, sees the issue.

The committee said that the system of institutionalized sex slavery used by the Japanese Army before and during the World War II is the most compelling example of the crime of sexual slavery and denial of justice to victims.

In fact, from the 1990s, numerous reports and recommendations from United Nations agencies have been criticizing Japan for not accepting responsibility for war crimes and international law.

The committee pointed out that the sixth periodic report — in which Japan held the view that it is not appropriate for the issue of “comfort women” to be brought up in the present review — acknowledged that the issue of “comfort women” was one that severely injured the honor and dignity of many women, but it neither addressed Japan’s legal responsibilities nor gave information on legislative and administrative measures to provide victims of the “comfort women” system the full effective redress.

The committee stressed that although the Japanese government insisted its legal responsibility and obligation toward compensation have already been settled by citing the San Francisco Peace Treaty and other bilateral agreements, there were differences in interpretation of these agreements, especially with regard to their scope and substance.

After having refuted the above ostensibly convincing argument from Japan, the committee highlighted that there has been little progress in resolving the problem of “comfort women” despite the recommendations made consistently by international bodies.

The modern and legal basis for the claims by the former “comfort women” is strong, while the apologies made by Japan are now being undermined by countervailing and contradictory statements, as highlighted by the monitoring body.

It drew attention to the recent review by Japanese government of the Kono Statement, an official apology made in 1993 by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono who acknowledged that Japan recruited more than 200,000 young women from China, Korea and Southeast Asia, and forced them to serve in military brothels during WWII.

An expert with the committee said that the review discredited victims by questioning their claims of having been forcibly taken away by stating that it was not possible to confirm that these women “were forcibly recruited,” which caused tremendous pain to the survived victims.

The expert said that in the 1993 statement of apology, Japanese authorities committed to squarely face the historic facts and take them as lessons of history, and 20 years or so later it was the high time for Japan to take the first lesson by replacing the euphemism “comfort women” with “enforced sex slaves.”

Surviving members of Malaya Lolas, a Pampanga-based organization of Filipino wartime sex slaves, might find comfort from these pronouncements by the Human Rights Committee after the Supreme Court recently ended their legal battle to compel the Philippine government to support their demand for an apology and compensation from the Japanese government before international tribunals.

In barring the group’s petition, the Supreme Court said that while it sympathized with their cause, the issue of whether the Philippine government should espouse claims of its nationals against a foreign government is a diplomatic matter that must be addressed by the executive branch of government and not the courts.

The decision resolved the issue with finality.

This case may have ended, but their fight for recognition and compensation for their sufferings will continue, with or without the help of their own government./PN