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Thursday, Dec. 2, 2010

Calls grow to give wartime sex slaves official apology

Kyodo News

Calls are growing for the government to offer an official apology to the wartime sex slaves, known as "comfort women," and to provide them with compensation through legislation.

In 1993, then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono acknowledged the forced recruitment of women into sexual servitude for the Imperial Japanese Army and apologized to the victims in a statement, but the victims and their supporters say this brought little satisfaction.

As the 100th anniversary of Japan's annexation of the Korean Peninsula is marked this year, more than 610,000 people from Japan, South Korea and other countries, including the Philippines, the United States and the Netherlands, signed a petition to seek a drastic solution to the sex slave issue.

The signatures were delivered to the prime minister's office last week, when several victims and a lawmaker visited Tokyo from South Korea and attended a rally at a Diet office building.

Around 400 people took part in the meeting and they stressed the need to provide relief to the former comfort women, most of whom are now in their 80s and 90s.

"It is quite important to restore the human rights of the victims (of the wartime sex slavery)," Lee Mi Kyong, a lawmaker of South Korea's Democratic Party, told the rally.

Aside from the petition, she brought 177 signatures of like-minded South Korean lawmakers to submit to the Japanese government.

Amnesty International offered its support to the international petition drive, saying the victims "did not speak of their ordeal for over 50 years. The continued denial of justice prolonged the humiliation and suffering of the 'comfort women' survivors."

Designating the current situation as "a serious violation of their human rights," Amnesty called on the Diet "to make a full unequivocal apology to survivors" and to acknowledge "the harm suffered by survivors in a way that is acceptable to the majority of the survivors."

The human rights group also urged the government "to immediately implement effective administrative mechanisms to provide full reparations to all survivors of sexual slavery."

Encouraged by the recent developments, Kil Won Ok, 82, spoke up at the rally.

"I tried to hide my past (as a comfort woman) as my tough life continued even after the end of the war" in the face of prejudice and discrimination, she said.

But she has shared her experiences "to reveal the truth about history and terminate wars so victims like me will never be created again."

Lee, who has supported former comfort women since before becoming a lawmaker, said that while an official apology and compensation for the victims have not yet been offered, "we have been able to gradually change social awareness of them through our support activities."

"The victims are now able to stand up and say with dignity that the one to blame is not them but militarism and the Japanese government, which has not yet apologized," she added.

She also said the support activities have led several countries, including the United States, to adopt resolutions demanding an apology from Japan.

In addition, the U.N. Human Rights Committee urged Japan in 2008 to "take immediate and effective legislative and administrative measures to adequately compensate all survivors as a matter of right."

At least 35 municipalities around Japan have also adopted statements to urge the central government to make sincere efforts in responding to the victims, according to the organizers of the rally.

Expectations for a comprehensive solution grew among the victims and their supporters after the Democratic Party of Japan won power last year and the DPJ submitted a bill together with the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party seeking a government apology and compensation for former comfort women.

However, efforts have been at a standstill since the power shift.

"We accept the 610,000 signatures sincerely and will make utmost efforts to enact the bill as early as possible," SDP leader Mizuho Fukushima told the rally.

"We don't have much time" as the victims are growing older, she said.

Commenting on the moves, Chong Yong Hye, a sociology professor at Otsuma Women's University in Tokyo, said legislative proceedings and punishment for those responsible should accompany an official apology.

"It is necessary to clarify how the Imperial Japanese Army came up with the comfort women system," Chong said. "Otherwise, we will not be able to prevent the recurrence of similar misconduct."

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