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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

First International Memorial Day for "Comfort Women"

Sunday, LEE Yong-nyo passed away. She was one of the last "halmoni" who survived Imperial Japan's military sexual slavery system. Her funeral was held yesterday, and today at noon, like every Wednesday*, survivors and supporters demonstrated in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul to demand official apologies and redress for the war crime.

One generation, "One Thousand Wednesdays"*

It's not a matter of if but of when Japan will answer the call. Of course, Shinzo Abe and his friends have a radically different agenda, and keep pursuing their outrageous and suicidal program**. Of course, mainstream Japanese media keep maintaining a lid on the issue, or at best the illusion of a doubt or a debate on war crimes that have long been proven and documented. Of course, history textbooks keep telling to the Japanese youth the stories fabricated by right-wing revisionists. Of course, the deniers and revisionists are bold enough to publish this kind of trash in US media to answer last year's "do you remember?" campaign in NYC (see "Dokdo, Senkaku, Ieodo, Kuril,... Hashima?"):

"Yes, we remember the facts". Japanese politicians and scholars signed a vile pack of lies crowned by the abject clip "sex, lies, and comfort women". The public outcry in reaction to this junk forced Abe to have a Japanese official issue a formal statement, if not to deny the denial, at least to confuse the issue and reinflate the smokescreen


International pressure keeps mounting (again, praise for NJ and the US! I hope France will join the cause soon). The courage of Korean Halmoni, now recognized as agents of change and hope, inspired victims to come out in other countries such as China, where the media mentioned the Wednesday demonstrations and their impact - Chinese sholars actually started working on the issue in 1992. Their example also inspires women's associations in Africa (e.g. Neema Namadamu presented the case of rape victims during the Congolese civil war).

National pressure will inevitably follow and hopefully, more Japanese citizens will take a moral stand to denounce the intolerable prolongation of an abomination. Already, a few local authorities have officially demanded the government to act - most notably Kyoto Prefecture Assembly, last March***.

And yesterday, for the International Symposium on the Japanese Military Sexual Slavery Issue organized by Korean Council at The Asan Institute, it felt good to see Japanese lawyers and activists fight for the victims as well as for the honor of their own country, repeatedly disgraced by its own leaders over the past decades, but never since the end of WWII as shamelessly as under Abe's government.

Japan can be very proud of these model citizens who stand up for truth. Again, share this website with your Japanese friends to contribute to the much needed pedagogy of a nation that cannot afford eluding History any longer:, the truth about "Comfort Women" (portal in Japanese): pedagogy by Japanese experts for a Japanese audience than can't get the truth from mainstream media or from revisionist textbooks

For this first International Memorial Day for "Comfort Women", we received very precious insights and updates about the situation in Japan and in China, from such legal experts such as Rumiko Nishino, Aitani Kunio, Yang Jing-ja, or Kang Jian. We also heard testimonies from two surviving "halmoni" (HA Sang-suk, KIM Bok-dong), and from Nobuyuki Tanakai, the son of an Imperial Japan soldier who after years of denial decided to clear his conscience and to share his memories, as well as war diaries that are now exhibited in the War and Women's Human Rights Museum in Seongsan-dong, Mapo-gu. Precisely, the multiplication of concurrent testimonies from victims and perpetrators across Asia contributed to proving undisputably the existence of a sexual slavery system institutionalized at the state level.

Justice shall eventually prevail, but will the last surviving victims live to see that day? Encouraged by the recent ruling against Mitsubishi Heavy for forced labor, twelve halmoni decided to bring their case to a Seoul court****. They will probably win, but can Japan justice - or what passes for it - follow?

Individuals can give it a shot, but nine lawsuits have already been dismissed, and it would help if special laws were passed to ensure non-prescription for war crimes. Fat chance under a government that not only denies any war crime, but also intends to revise the constitution in the diametrically opposed direction!

By the way, among the articles Shinzo Abe wants to modify, Article 98-2 ("Treaties concluded by Japan and established laws of nations shall be faithfully observed") sounds a very likely target, since he deliberately violated it by refusing to follow UN recommendations to redress the "Comfort Women" issue.

And one last time: "Comfort Women" is the euphemism pushed by Japanese revisionists to avoid refering to the ugly truth of sexual slavery. Most victims were not even women. Among the 700 survivors interviewed in China, the youngest was 12 and the oldest 23, and most were under 18 (HA Sang-suk Halmoni was 16 when forced into sexual slavery). Where revisionists talk about "willing prostitutes", the hard facts of History tell the true stories of minors forcefully abducted, deported, raped, tortured, turned into sexual slaves for up to 200 soldiers each****... Where revisionists talk about individual rogue soldiers acting badly like it happens in every conflict, the hard facts of History tell the true story of an institutionalized system reaching across the continent, a close monitoring at all levels, and even posters to advertise new "comfort stations" in the neighborhood.

Yes, you'll remember the facts, Mr Abe. And future generations of Japanese citizens will remember how you and your friends tried to get their nation's very soul once more raped.

Addendum 20130815

More citizens Japan can be proud of: "Japanese activists pushing their government for formal admission of guilt on comfort women" (The Hankyoreh - 20130815):

Mina Watanabe (Women's Active Museum on War and Peace): "We may not be strong, but we won’t give up. We’re going to keep speaking out"

Demonstrations were held across Asia and even in Germany for this first international memorial day, and hopefully, August 14th shall be officially recognized by the UN as the day to universally denounce sexual slavery. That day in 1991, KIM Hak-sun Halmoni personally came out as a victim and officially demanded the Japanese government to act responsibly.


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* see "One Thousand Wednesdays" (20131214)

** see previous episodes, and most recently "A Radioactive Government", "No, you can't honor A-Bomb victims in Hiroshima AND War Criminals in Yasukuni"...

** "Growing support inside Japan for justice for the survivors of Japan's military sexual slavery system" (Amnesty International 20130329):

"Amnesty International welcomes the Kyoto Prefecture Assembly’s statement calling for justice for the survivors of Japan’s military sexual slavery system.

On 26 March, Kyoto Prefecture Assembly became the first prefecture in Japan to pass a statement calling on the central government to provide redress to the survivors of Japan’s military sexual slavery system including compensation aimed at restoring the honour and dignity of the survivors.
Already in Japan, 39 local city and town councils have passed similar statements since 2008 calling on the central government to address the situation urgently as support continues to grow inside the country to provide justice for the survivors of Japan’s military sexual slavery system.

The statement passed by the Kyoto Prefecture Assembly was passed in the same month that the Japanese government rejected recommendations made by state parties during Japan’s second Universal Periodic Review to accept responsibility, including legal responsibility for Japan’s military sexual slavery system, and to take appropriate measures to restore the dignity of the survivors, including by providing adequate compensation.

Amnesty International is particularly concerned by recent comments by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that he wants to “revise” previous apologies extended to the survivors. This is a worrying sign that Japan will continue to deny justice to the survivors, as is the statement by the Japanese government in their response to the Universal Periodic Review recommendations that the issue “should not be politicized or turned into a diplomatic issue”.

The Japanese Imperial Army sexually enslaved women and girls from across the Asia Pacific region who, because of age, poverty, class, family status, education, nationality or ethnicity, were susceptible to being deceived and trapped into the sexual slavery system. The Japanese Imperial Army used violence and deception to enslave the women and girls, and survivors have suffered from physical and mental ill-health, isolation, shame and often extreme poverty as a result of their enslavement

Amnesty International has previously raised concerns that the denial of justice by the Japanese government only compounds the human rights violations committed against the women.
Amnesty International calls on the government of Japan to:
  • accept full responsibility, including legal responsibility, in a way that publicly acknowledges the harm these women have suffered and is acceptable to the majority of the survivors;
  • apologize fully and unequivocally for the crimes committed against the women;
  • provide adequate and effective reparations to survivors directly from the government in line with international standards and including the participation of survivors to establish what constitutes adequate and effective reparations;
  • include an accurate account of the sexual slavery system in Japanese educational textbooks on the Second World War."

**** see "Taro Aso, Japan's Constitution, and Godwin's Law" (20130730) for the former, "12 Former Sex Slaves to Seek Damages in Korean Court" (Chosun Ilbo, 20130813) for the later

***** Kang Jian, who has also been working on hundreds of testimonies from Imperial Japan soldiers and officials, as well as on documents often partially destroyed in pyres meant to get rid of all archives, mentioned statistics from the Japanese authorities where the soldier to slave ratio reached up to 200 to 1.

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