- 5. DID JAPAN OFFER A SUFFICIENT APOLOGY AND COMPENSATION?
Wednesday demonstration in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul, Korea.On June 26, 2007, the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs passed House Resolution 121 by an overwhelming majority, calling on Japan to “formally acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner for its Imperial Armed Force’s coercion of young women into sexual slavery.”
The Japanese government claimed that it has already apologized for the comfort women system. The “apology” is said to be the 1992 statement made by Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Kato and another statement made by his successor Yohei Kono the following year. In the Kono Statement, the Japanese government admitted to and apologized for the involvement of the Japanese armed forces in the coercion and recruitment of comfort women.
Two public hearings addressing the issue of crimes committed by the imperial Japanese army were held in Tokyo in 1992 and 2000.Despite these apologies, however, the Japanese government has consistently disclaimed any legal responsibility regarding this issue. Yet, it also created the Asian Women’s Fund based on the idea that Japan would take moral responsibility towards former comfort women from a humanitarian standpoint.
Established in 1995, the Asian Women’s Fund implemented atonement projects by collecting money from Japanese citizens on a voluntary basis. Due to the lack of response from the former comfort women, the fund ended operations in March 2007 without any notable achievements.
While criticizing the Japanese government for doing nothing about the comfort women issue is incorrect, it is also inaccurate to say that all the problems were resolved or that Japan has “shown its best efforts.” It is necessary to ask why reconciliation has not been achieved between Japan and its neighbors and why compensation has not been made to former comfort women in spite of the Kono Statement and the Asian Women’s Fund.
Did the Japanese government offer a sufficient apology and compensation in an appropriate manner? It can be safely said that these problems are well laid out in House Resolution 121, introduced by Representative Michael Honda (D-CA). The major provisions of House Resolution 121 are:
—The Japanese government should formally acknowledge the Japanese Imperial Army’s coercion of young women into sexual slavery (the presence of comfort women) and apologize to them.
—The Prime Minister of Japan should apologize in his official capacity.
—The Japanese government should publicly refute claims that the comfort women system never existed.
—The Japanese government should follow the recommendations of the international community and educate current and future generations about the comfort women system.
- Asian Women’s Fund
- In 1995, Japan established the Asian Women’s Fund for atonement in the form of material compensation and to provide each surviving comfort woman with a signed apology from the prime minister, stating “As Prime Minister of Japan.
I thus extend anew my most sincere apologies and remorse to all the women who underwent immeasurable and painful experiences and suffered incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women.” The fund was funded by private donations and not government money, and has been criticized as a way to avoid admitting government abuse. Because of the unofficial nature of the fund, many comfort women have rejected these payments and continue to seek an official apology and compensation.
Although former Japanese prime ministers had issued apologies as individuals, neither the Diet nor the government had approved those statements. Nor did the Diet pass the Kono Statement. In short, no official apology has been offered by the state of Japan, which was wholly responsible for the plight of the comfort women.
Despite the Japanese government’s denial, there are individuals and organizations that also hold it accountable for legal compensation. Presented as an agenda item in 1992 for the United Nations Commission on Human Rights by the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, the comfort women problem has been regarded as a human rights violation.
Recommendations have been made by United Nations organizations to the Japanese government to issue an official apology to the victims and to face its legal responsibility. Citing a recent report claiming that the Japanese government organized “rape camps” and systematically enslaved over 200,000 girls and women during World War II, United Nations Special Rapporteur Gay J. McDougall notes that Japan faces a stark choice. It must either accept legal responsibility, which includes the obligation to identify and prosecute surviving criminals, or shirk this responsibility and in so doing likely violate international law as well as Japan’s international treaty obligations. To date, these recommendations remain unfulfilled, and the world is watching to see if Japan will ever face its past and educate its youth about Japan’s mistakes.
At the Women's International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery, former comfort women testified to the atrocities they suffered, but the Japanese government ignored the proceedings (Th e Washington Post, December 9, 2000).
Left: A new edition of Atarashii Rekishi Kyokasho (meaning “New History Textbook”) was published by Jiyuusha and approved in 2011. This book does not refer to the comfort women.
Right: Ikuhosha Publishing Inc. published another textbook approved in 2011 that does not mention the comfort women either.
- Radhika Coomaraswamy’s reports to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights
- In her reports to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Radhika Coomaraswamy has written on violence in the family, violence in the community, violence against women during armed conflict, and the problem of international trafficking. A strong advocate of women’s rights, she has intervened on behalf of women throughout the world seeking clarification from governments in cases involving violence against women. She has also conducted field visits: to Japan and Korea regarding the problem of comfort women; to Rwanda, Colombia, Haiti, Indonesia with regard to violence against women in war time; to Poland, India, Bangladesh and Nepal on the issue of trafficking; to the United States on women in prisons; to Brazil on domestic violence; and to Cuba on violence against women generally.
Taiwanese comfort women opposing the Asian Women’s Fund and calling for an apology and compensation from the Japanese government (April 29, 2002)
- Demands by the victims
- In this context, the Special Rapporteur would like to reflect in detail the concrete demands made by former comfort women who want their voices to be heard by the international community and by the Government of Japan in particular. In response to questions raised by the Special Rapporteur, most former comfort women informed the Special Rapporteur that the Government of Japan should:
(a) Apologize individually to each of the surviving women for the suffering they have had to endure. … In addition, most victims felt that the apologies made at the time of the mission of Prime Minister Murayama [Tomiichi] were not sincere enough, especially because his statement had not been endorsed by the Japanese Diet;
(b) Recognize that the drafting of approximately 200,000 Korean women as military sexual slaves and the establishment of comfort houses for the use of the Japanese Imperial Army were carried out in a systematic and forcible manner by and/or with the knowledge of the government and the army command;
(c) Recognize that the systematic recruitment of women for purposes of sexual slavery should be considered a crime against humanity, a gross violation of international humanitarian law, and a crime against peace, as well as a crime of slavery, trafficking in persons and of forced prostitution;
(d) Accept moral and legal responsibility for such crimes;
(e) Pay compensation from governmental resources to the surviving victims. For this purpose, it was suggested that the Government of Japan should enact special legislation to enable a settlement of individual claims for compensation through civil law suits at Japanese municipal courts.
… In addition, former comfort women are requesting the following measures to be taken by the Government of Japan:
(a) A thorough investigation into the historical facts of the issue of military sexual slavery during World War II, including publicizing all official documents and materials on the matter still existent in Japan and, in particular, in official governmental archives;
(b) The amendment of Japanese history books and educational curricula to reflect the historical facts which would have emerged from the investigation;
(c) The identification and prosecution, under Japanese domestic law, of all perpetrators involved in the recruitment of military sexual slaves and the institutionalization of military sexual slavery.
— From Radhika Coomaraswamy's report