Asia 'Comfort Women' Get Little Empathy from Japan

Article excerpt

The Japanese government's effort to atone for part of its World War II shame faces trouble on two fronts.

Its citizens are proving reluctant to contribute to a fund intended to compensate women who were forced to work as prostitutes for Japan's military during the war.

And a new United Nations report issued this week insists that the Japanese government must accept legal responsibility for the human rights violations.

The Japanese government has been encouraging its citizens to contribute money to the fund.

But the report on the so-called sex slaves has focused attention on the underwhelming response the fund has drawn: So far the Asian Peace and Friendship Fund for Women has a balance of 142 million yen ($1.34 million).

"It's totally inadequate, even after eight months," says Mutsuko Miki, a member of the fund's board of directors and the widow of former Prime Minister Takeo Miki.

The fund's secretary general, Masao Wada, acknowledges that his organization's budget for advertising - to elicit more contributions - is, at 200 million yen, larger than the balance.

"Of course we are not satisfied," adds Yasuo Matsui, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official who coordinates the government's support for the project. "We will double our efforts."

Some academic researchers in Japan have estimated that hundreds of thousands of women from Korea, China, the Philippines, and other countries were forced into prostitution. At least 72 women have sued for compensation in Japanese courts.

This week, Radhika Coomaraswamy, a Sri Lankan legal scholar appointed by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to study violence against women, praised the fund as an expression of moral responsibility, but challenged the government's denial of legal responsibility for the sex slaves.

Nonetheless, says Mr. Matsui, echoing comments by elected officials in recent days, "the government's position will not be changed."

The fund was designed as a delicate solution to a sensitive problem.

In recent years, the accounts of women who say they were sexually enslaved by the Japanese military have proved increasingly embarrassing to the Japanese government. Last year was the 50th anniversary of the war's end, and many groups and individuals marked the occasion by filing lawsuits seeking official apologies and compensation. …