Japan: Far From Comfortable with UNSCR 1325 and “Comfort Women”

By Kyoko Yamazaki *

The Japanese government is all out for gender equality but sees no reason to develop a national action plan for putting into practice the UN Security Council Resolution 1325. At the same time, it feels uncomfortable about the issue of ‘comfort women’ claiming that it has done its best to atone for what happened during World War II.

“The Japanese government considers that the implementation of the UNSC Resolution 1325 relates to only ODA (official development assistance). The government has no plan to formulate the national action plan for 1325,” says Prof. Hiroko Hashimoto who was a member of the “external team” that evaluated ODA this year.

In fact, the national action plan for gender equality that has been undergoing revision refers to 1325 only in the context of international relations. The reason, says Prof. Hashimoto, is that those at the helm of affairs in the Gender Equality Bureau of Cabinet Office understand little about UNSCR Resolution 1325.

“I believe that we need political will to formulate a national action plan for Resolution1325. However, it seems that neither current prime minister nor the minister for foreign affairs has that will. (In fact) they may not even be aware of the Resolution,” Prof. Hashimoto adds in an exclusive interview.

Four gender equality experts who are members of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Japan representative to the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), two advisers to the Japanese delegation to the Beijing plus15 UN Meeting in March 2010, including Prof. Hashimoto, made a request in writing to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) in July 2010 to formulate 1325 national plan of action. They attached Japanese translation of national plans of actions for 1325 in countries such as Sweden, Norway and Iceland.

But the Director of the Department of Human Rights and Humanitarian Issues was unwilling to put together the national plan as it would require creation of an intergovernmental convention. “She (the director) said that Japan is already active in assisting the governments of Cambodia, Afghanistan, and Kosovo to empower women through ODA. Those ODA activities could be defined as activities under the Resolution 1325,” informs Prof. Hashimoto.

Lagging behind

However, the ‘White Paper on Gender Equality 2010’ dated June 2010 has a special section on “the Active Participation of Women and Revitalization of Economy and Society”. The White Paper says: “More attention is given to this topic, since international communities have recently been focusing on the positive impact of the women’s active participation in economy and society, and also the APEC Women Leaders Network (WLN) meeting . . .”

The White Paper goes on to say that in Japan, women’s participation has not progressed as much as that in other developed countries. “However, as gender equality progresses and women participate more actively, there is a stronger possibility for Japan to fulfill the potential of women.”

The White Paper adds: “Although the percentage of women holding ‘leadership positions’ in decision-making processes is gradually increasing, it is still low. In almost every area, the target of ’30 percent by 2020′, which was set by the government – “in every area of society, we expect that the percentage of women in leadership positions will be around 30 percent by 2020” – has yet to be achieved.

‘Comfort women’

In stark contrast to reluctance or lack of political will in respect of Resolution 1325, the Japanese government feels rather uncomfortable with the issue of “comfort women” – a euphemism for or women working in military brothels, especially those women who were forced into prostitution as a form of sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II. Their precise numbers are not known but the estimates range between 20,000 and 410,000, depending on whether it is some Japanese scholars or their Chinese counterparts.

The majority of the comfort women are said to have been from Korea, China, Japan and the Philippines, but women from Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, Indonesia, and other Japanese-occupied territories were allegedly also used in “comfort stations”. Stations were located in Japan, China, the Philippines, Indonesia, then Malaya, Thailand, then Burma, then New Guinea, Hong Kong, Macau, and what was then French Indochina.

The UN Human Rights Council has declared the Japanese government guilty “and liable for crimes against humanity because of the considerable scale on which these crimes were committed”.

The 1998 UN report stated their understanding of Japan’s legal position regarding compensation: “Until the early 1990s, the Japanese government denied the extent of its involvement in the creation of comfort stations and the abuses committed against women (comfort women).

“The Japanese government has made various apologies since the early 1990s. One very notable apology was made by Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama in July 1995 in which he specifically mentions the Japanese military’s involvement in crimes against comfort women. Though it has seemingly apologized repeatedly for these offenses, the Japanese government denies legal liability for the creation and maintenance of the system of ‘comfort stations’ and comfort women used during World War II.

“The Japanese government has set up an Asia Women’s Fund which conveys Japan’s apologies for crimes committed against women during World War II through direct donations from the Japanese public. Despite this, according to the Japanese government, individual comfort women don’t deserve compensation.”

Two years after the UN report was published, ‘The Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery’ (the Women’s Tribunal) organized by Asian women and human rights organizations and supported by international NGOs, was held in Tokyo from December 8 to 12, 2000. It was set up to adjudicate Japan’s military sexual violence, in particular the enslavement of ‘comfort women’, to bring those responsible for it to justice, and to end the ongoing cycle of impunity for wartime sexual violence against women.

Sixty-four survivors from nine countries and areas in the Asia-Pacific region took part. More than one thousand people from throughout the world, some from as far as Africa and South America, came to observe the Tribunal each day, along with more than three hundred media representatives. The Tribunal issued its preliminary judgment, which found Emperor Hirohito guilty, and the State of Japan responsible, for the crimes of rape and sexual slavery as crimes against humanity.

However, it took a whole year for the Tribunal to render its Final Judgment. On December 4, 2001, the Final Judgment was issued in The Hague, the Netherlands, the “home of international law”, to show the significance of the judgment to the whole world. More than 1000 paragraphs and 200 pages long, the Judgment discusses in full detail the factual findings of the Tribunal, and law applicable to the case. It found all ten of the defendants accused in the Common Indictment guilty, either as individuals or as superiors, of crimes against humanity.

Prof. Hashimoto is of the view that the Japanese government has done nothing in response to the demand of the Tribunal. “In fact the government and even major mass media have disregarded the outcome of the Tribunal. You may know that NHK (National Broadcasting Company) made a manipulated program of the Tribunal under the direction of right wing politicians,” she adds.

Prof. Hashimoto believes that “apparently the majority of Japanese media are not willing to inform about the comfort women’s issue. Only a few media inform about discussion at UN and the resolutions adopted by parliaments of other countries and local governments on the compensation for comfort women.”

The U.S. Congress, the Canadian Lower House, the British Parliament and the European parliaments adopted resolutions in 2007 which urge the Japanese government to make a “formal and sincere apology” to women who were forced by the Japanese military to provide sex for soldiers during World War II.

Ordinary Japanese citizens criticize the foreign media which, they say, “provide articles based on only the information available through NGOs which had attacked the AWF (Asian Women’s Fund’) as well as the Japanese government. There is a tendency in those articles to disregard Japanese Government’s role conducted through AWF.”

Asian Women’s Fund

The Fund, set up in 1995 was dissolved in 2007. It was purported for atonement in the form of material compensation and to provide each surviving comfort woman with a signed apology from the then prime minister Tomiichi Murayama, 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.”

AWF was funded by private donations and not government money, and has therefore 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 – in vain.

Nevertheless, VAWW-NET Japan (Violence Against Women in War-Network Japan) formed in 1998, continues to “call for the restoration of honour and justice for women victimized by Japan’s military sexual slavery before & during WWII, and for the Japanese government to fulfil its war and post-war responsibilities. The VAWW-NET Japan also pleads for the removal of US military bases from Okinawa and other parts of Japan because of “sexual violence around the U.S. military bases. (Oct. 2010)

* Kyoko Yamazaki is a freelance journalist in Tokyo.

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