Japan Can Champion Women's Rights

By Mccarthy, Mary M | International Herald Tribune, January 2, 2013 | Go to article overview

Japan Can Champion Women's Rights


Mccarthy, Mary M, International Herald Tribune


An official apology on "comfort women" is unlikely. But Japan can help consign sexual servitude to history.

"They started to drag us away, one by one. ... I hid under the table, but was soon found. ... The Japanese officer ... took his sword out of its scabbard and pointed it at me, threatening me with it, that he would kill me if I did not give in to him. I curled myself into a corner, like a hunted animal that could not escape."

Thus, Jan Ruff O'Herne, a Dutch woman born in Java in 1923, recounted the abuse she suffered at the hands of the Japanese military as a World War II "comfort woman," or sexual slave, at a 2007 U.S. House subcommittee hearing.

This was only the first of the rapes that she would endure every day and night for months after she had been "forcibly seized" from a Japanese civilian internment camp at age 19 and brought to a brothel for Japanese servicemen. O'Herne was one of up to 200,000 mostly Korean, but also Chinese, Dutch, Japanese, Filipino, Indonesian and other women coerced into sexual servitude by the Japanese Imperial Armed Forces.

In 1993, after decades of official denials, Yohei Kono, the chief cabinet secretary, issued a formal admission and apology to the women following an extensive government study. Many conservatives in Japan have never accepted the so-called Kono Statement, most notably Shinzo Abe, the new prime minister. On Thursday, the new chief cabinet secretary of the Abe government, Yoshihide Suga, said that historians and other experts should re-examine the Kono Statement. Knowing the shaky ground on which the apology stands amid longstanding conservative calls to rescind or revise it, what many comfort women have sought is an official Japanese government apology (a cabinet decision) and state compensation. This seems as far from becoming reality as it has in the last two decades.

This type of revisionist atmosphere has become a significant obstacle to smooth relations between Japan and its neighbors. It is also of profound concern to the United States, two of whose most important allies in the region are Japan and South Korea, which are at odds over the comfort women issue.

But this is not only a matter of Japan's foreign relations, U.S. strategic interests, or history. Its global import is inextricably tied to the real-life circumstances of women and girls in conflict- ridden zones and other unsafe situations throughout the world today. …

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