Court Gives Ex-Comfort Women
By Paul Rodgers -
LONDON (WOMENSENEWS) Dec 7, 2001--Former sex slaves, known as "comfort
women," won a symbolic victory over Hirohito and the Japanese
Imperial Army this week when a women's international war crimes tribunal
in The Hague upheld all but one of their charges, including rape,
torture and slavery.
The Women's International War Crimes Tribunal of Japan's
Military Sexual Slavery ruled on Tuesday that Emperor Showa, his wartime
prime minister, General Hideki Tojo, and eight other generals--all 10
of them now dead--were guilty of crimes against humanity in World War
Led by American judge Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, an ex-president
of the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, the panel
of women jurists held the current Japanese government responsible for
reparations to the victims of the Imperial Army's "comfort station"
system. The other judges are from Argentina, Britain and Kenya.
Some historians have said that as many as 200,000 women
and girls were forced into the Imperial Army's "red houses"
between 1937 and 1945 where they were systematically raped--some by
as many as 60 soldiers a day. Comfort women were often kidnapped from
China, Malaysia, North Korea, the Philippines and other countries.
The women's tribunal is a people's tribunal organized
by Asian women and human rights organizations and supported by international
non-governmental organizations to hear cases of sexual slavery and other
crimes committed against women by Japan. The United States, Japan and
other countries do not recognize its authority.
The Japanese government had no immediate comment on the
judgment and its embassy in The Hague refused to open the to elderly
ex-comfort women who wanted to present a copy of the judgment.
One of the witnesses, Kim Young Suk, a North Korean, told
the tribunal at its three-day hearing in Tokyo last year that she was
12 years old when she was enslaved. "I hate Japanese soldiers,"
she said. "I am over 70 now, and I can never forgive. I didn't
come here for money. I didn't come for pity. I want you to see that
I lost my youth, my life."
Tribunal Says Japan Should Offer Full Apology, Compensation
The only accusation that was not upheld by the tribunal
was a charge that Hirohito was individually responsible for a mass rape
and massacre at the Philippine village of Mapanique in 1942. Because
it happened so quickly, over a period of just two days, the emperor
might not have known about it, the court said.
Promulgating their ruling in The Hague, the Netherlands,
the judges said Japan should offer to compensate the victims, repatriate
survivors who wish to go home and locate and return the remains of the
Tokyo should also investigate the comfort station system
thoroughly, preserve and disclose all relevant documents, identify and
punish the principle perpetrators, and create memorials, museums and
libraries to honour the women, they said.
The government should include meaningful sections on the
atrocities in textbooks at all levels, which Japan's right-wing politicians
would strongly oppose, and should consider setting up a truth and reconciliation
commission like the one South Africa established after the end of apartheid.
But above all, Japan should make a "full and frank
apology," they said.
Japan only admitted in 1993 the existence of comfort stations.
It set up the Asian Women's Fund, supported by private contributions,
to compensate comfort women in 1995, but that money, and the statement
by Tomiichi Murayama, the prime minister then, that the comfort stations
were "entirely inexcusable," have been rejected by most survivors.
Tribunal: US Failed to Investigate, Prosecute Crimes Against
The judges also called on America to admit its failure
to investigate and prosecute the crimes after Japan's unconditional
surrender in 1945.
The tribunal has no legal standing and can not enforce
its ruling. Japan has ignored the proceedings and U.S. President George
W. Bush said last month that he would not support the comfort women's
Of 10 civil cases--some claiming multi-million-dollar
compensation--filed in Japanese courts, only one has succeeded, for
a paltry sum, and that decision was overturned on appeal last year.
"The Japanese army raped us, and I was treated like
a pig," said Ortencia Martinez, 73, after she and 45 other Filipinas
lost their case. "I will not forget the pain."
But Judge McDonald and her co-jurists--the president of
the International Association of Women Judges Carmen Maria Argibay of
Argentina, Christine Chinkin from Britain and Willy Mutunga from Kenya--dismissed
the technical defenses usually mounted by the Japanese government: the
expiration of the statute of limitations, the immunity of the head of
state and the settlement of wartime claims in peace agreements with
"States can not, through their political agreements
and settlements, ignore or forgive crimes against humanity committed
against individuals," said Judge McDonald in her written opinion.
One prosecutor went further, blaming Tokyo for its lack
of co-operation with investigators. "I accuse the Japanese government
of continual obstruction of the research into the situation of comfort
women in Malaysia," said Juliette Chenaud, the prosecutor from
"They did this out of their great economic strength."
Of the 3 million Japanese troops on active service during the war, only
two testified before the tribunal.
Case Has Far-Reaching Implications For Women Raped in
Patricia Viseur-Sellers, the principle prosecutor, said
the Japanese instituted the comfort station system in response to widespread
atrocities after the fall of Shanghai in 1932 and the "Rape of
Nanking," the Chinese capital, in 1937. The army was worried that
if soldiers consorted with civilians they might contract venereal diseases
or reveal military secrets to enemy spies.
"My favorite piece of documentary evidence,"
she said, "is a very banal report from the ministry of war of Japan,
where the vice-minister has put on his private seal, talking about how
we have to ship some women to some of the armies because our soldiers
need more sexual recreation."
Because it followed strict international norms for such
tribunals and had on its bench four highly respected jurists, the tribunal
is expected to be influential in other courts, said Ninotchka Rosca,
a novelist from the Philippines and media liaison for the tribunal.
"This was a seminal case," Rosca said. "It
has far-reaching implications for women all over the world. When official
tribunals and courts consider similar cases they can refer to the ruling
from this one."
Since Kim Hak Soon, a South Korean, became the first comfort
woman to speak out publicly a decade ago, other tribunals, for Rwanda
and the former Yugoslavia, have taken a closer look at rape during conflict,
Rape Now Is Recognized as a Weapon, a Crime of War
That, in turn, has led to other milestones. The U.N. Tribunal
for Rwanda set a precedent in the case of Jean-Paul Akayesu, a local
official who encouraged and supervised mass rapes. It ruled that such
acts of sexual violence were a crime against humanity rather than a
breach of the codes of war, a less serious offense.
The Women's International War Crimes Tribunal heard the
testimony of 35 survivors from China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands,
Malaysia, The Philippines, Taiwan and Timor at the Tokyo hearings, which
were held near to the Yasukuni shrine, a monument to Japan's war dead.
"We want to give these comfort women a sense of justice,"
said one of the organizers of the tribunal,Yayori Matsui from Violence
Against Women in War-Japan. "Germany has prosecuted more than 6,000
war criminals, but the Japanese government has not done anything. Japan
has not punished one single war criminal. Instead, they are enshrined
Among the testimony was a statement by Madam X, an ethnic
Chinese Malaysian, who described being abducted by Japanese soldiers,
after watching her father shot dead and her mother raped and killed.
"I was raped by three Japanese soldiers and then taken away in
a truck" to a comfort station, she said. Every night she was raped
by 10 to 20 soldiers. When she could no longer have sex, she was kicked
When she went home after the Japanese retreat, other villagers
spat at her. She married in 1950 and adopted two girls because she could
not bear children. "I hated making love and refused to do it so
much so that my husband left me," she said.
Most Sex Slaves Were Asian, But Europeans Also Raped
While most of the military sex slaves were drawn from
the local population, in Java, now part of Indonesia, European women
were raped by Japanese officers.
Jan Ruff-O'Hearne was 21 and a virgin who hoped to become
a nun when she was taken from a concentration camp in 1944. "The
war really never ended for us. The atrocities done to us by the Japan
would haunt us for the rest of our lives. Our beautiful young bodies
became soiled and damaged goods.
"Later, I wanted marriage, a husband, a home and
children, but not sex. I have never been able to enjoy sexual intercourse."
Like other comfort women, she was raped by doctors sent
by the army each week to examine her and has been afraid of medical
treatment ever since.
Evidence of similar crimes in Papua New Guinea was presented
this week, but was not included in the Tribunal's official report.
One of the Papua New Guinean victims recounted in a statement
how Japanese soldiers took her from her remote village down river to
a town where she was placed in a cubicle, her hands tied behind her
back and her legs spread and tied to posts.
"They lined themselves outside our cubicles and as
soon as one of them had satisfied his sexual desires another would come
and have his turn."
The organizing committee of the tribunal has not yet decided
what steps it will take next but it is expected to launch a new legal
battle in the Netherlands.
The tribunal recommended that an advisory judgment be
sought from the International Court of Justice in The Hague. However,
even that would not be binding. Paul Rodgers is a Canadian free-lance
writer based in London. He has written for The Economist, The Daily
Telegraph, The Independent, The Independent on Sunday, New Scientist,
The Daily Mirror, Macleans and The Toronto Sun and has appeared on BBC
Radio 5 Live, Radio Canada's As it Happens and CBC.
For more information:
Women's Caucus for Gender Justice: http://www.iccwomen.org/index.htm
Feminist International Radio Endeavour Fire:
Film: Silence Broken (Comfort Women): http://www.twotigers.org/
International Court of Justice:
Just the Beginning Foundation: Gabrielle Kirk McDonald
International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination
and Racism: http://www.imadr.org
Taipei Times- "Japan must face up to history, say
women's NGO": http://www.taipeitimes.com/news/2000/09/19/story/0000053985