Comfort Women

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Comfort Women is a euphemism for female sex slaves were forced to deliver sexual services to Japanese soldiers, before and during World War II. The Japanese called these sex slaves "jugun ianfu", "military sex slaves" (MSS), "military comfort women" but they are more commonly known as comfort women.



Beginning in the 1930's, Japan rounded up an estimated number of as many as one hundred thousand to four hundred thousand women and girls, mostly from Korea, China, and the Philippines, and forced them to serve as prostitutes for its soldiers both before and during World War II. This program was approved by the Imperial Conference, which was composed of the emperor, representatives from the armed forces and the main Cabinet ministers. The conference was formed after Japan invaded Manchuria in 1937.

Though there is much confusion and controversy over the history of the "comfort stations" or brothels, certain facts are clear. Military brothels were created all over the occupied areas of Asia during the war for the use of Japanese soldiers. Former Prime Minister Nakasone recalls in his memoirs authorizing the building of a "comfort station" on the island of Borneo for the use of men in his Naval Corps.

Comfort Stations

Military Comfort Station in Shanghai, China

The story of the army's comfort stations began in 1932, with Japanese Lieutenant-General Okamura Yasuji. Seeking a solution to the 223 reported rapes by Japanese troops, he asked for comfort women to be sent for his soldiers in Shanghai, China. The comfort stations were established in various locations in response to Yasuji's request. The reasons for establishing comfort stations are the need to prevent anti-Japanese sentiments from fermenting as a result of rapes and other unlawful acts by Japanese military personnel against local residents in the areas occupied by the then Japanese military, the need to increase the morale of the troops, the need to prevent loss of troop strength by venereal and other diseases, and the need to prevent leakage of military secrets. The countries or areas where comfort stations existed are: Japan, China, Philippines, Indonesia, Korea, Thailand, Burma, Papua New Guinea, Hong Kong, Macao and the then French Indochina. Many comfort women died without being repatriated. They were simply discarded when they got too sick to be of any use. During the last months of WWII, most comfort women were murdered or left to die by retreating Japanese troops. Some of the women were so humiliated that they never returned to their homes after the war, and many of those who did kept quiet about their experiences.

The Japanese Army used comfort stations extensively until the war ended in the Pacific in 1945. At a typical comfort station, a soldier paid a fee, obtained a ticket and a condom, and was admitted to a woman's space, which might have been partitioned with sheets.

There were rumors about this form of slavery after the war. It was not until 1991 that a South Korean woman, Grandma Kim Hak Soon, became the first person to speak publicly about the existence of comfort women. It has since became public knowledge as other victim survivors have come forward and as groups have been founded to demand justice for these women.

Japan's Response

Japan initially claimed that the comfort women were willing prostitutes and only acknowledged the sex slavery system in 1993 after documents discovered in the Japanese Army archives proved its true nature. That same year, a number of surviving comfort women have filed lawsuits against the Japanese government including 18 Filipina former comfort women and have raised the issue with the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. So far, neither the Korean nor the Filipina women's lawsuits have been resolved, and the Japanese government has not proposed alternative reparations satisfactory to the former comfort women.

Between December 1991 and August 1993 the Japanese government conducted its own investigation of the comfort women issue. On the basis of its findings, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Kono Yohei issued a statement on August 4, 1993 in which he stated that "The recruitment of the comfort women was conducted mainly by private recruiters who acted in response to the request of the military. The Government study has revealed that in many cases they were recruited against their own will, through coaxing, coercion, etc., and that, at times, administrative/military personnel directly took part in the recruitments. They lived in misery at comfort stations under a coercive atmosphere." Kono went on to offer his government's "sincere apology and remorse" for the "immeasurable pain and incurable physical and psychological wounds" suffered by the "comfort women." The Japanese government backed the establishment of the quasi-governmental Asian Comfort Woman Fund in the mid-1990's but it has refused to offer direct compensation. Many of the women and their families have refused to accept money from the fund because they say Japan has never taken responsibility for its actions.

In line with the uphill of the issue on comfort women, the European Parliament adopts a resolution on Comfort Women. The resolution urges the Government of Japan to formally acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical and legal responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner for its Imperial Armed Force's coercion of young women into sexual slavery and to implement effective administrative mechanisms to provide reparation to all surviving victims of the comfort women system and the families of its deceased victims.

This resolution joins the growing worldwide call for justice for the survivors of Japan's military sexual slavery system. In July 2007, the US House of Representatives passed resolution 121. In November the Dutch unanimously passed a motion calling for justice for comfort women. The Canadian Parliament unanimously passed Motion 291 on 28 November. Amnesty International on the other hand is calling on the government of Japan to accept full responsibility for the crimes committed against comfort women and provide full reparations to survivors of the military sexual slavery system and their immediate families in accordance with international standards and in a way acceptable to the survivors themselves.

On March 1, 1997, Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo responded to the Congress resolution by commenting that there was "no evidence" that the recruitment of "comfort women" had been "forcible in the narrow sense of the word". The denial of responsibility for the fate of the comfort women is, of course, an extremely important issue for Japan's relations with its Asian neighbors and regional partners.

Several organizations were established to protect the rights and to fight for justice of the comfort women. Lila-Pilipina is one the three major organizations of Filipina survivors where they aid the comfort women in their fight for justice.

To this day, the Japanese government has refused to adequately and unequivocally acknowledge its responsibility for the crimes committed against former comfort women. Surviving comfort women have been offered unofficial apologies and financial awards but many have refused to accept these until the government of Japan takes full responsibility. The aging survivors are dying off one by one without any type redress, formal apology, or historical acknowledgment by a government that stole their freedom and power for so many years.

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