A special rapporteur for the UN has expressed serious concern about the Japanese government’s attempts to influence how textbooks describe the issue of the comfort women for the Imperial Japanese Army.
During a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo on Apr. 19, David Kaye, Special Rapporteur for the United Nations Human Rights Council, said that the Japanese government must both be careful about meddling in the interpretation of historical incidents and be diligent to try to inform its citizens about severe crimes such as the comfort women system.
Kaye arrived in Japan on Apr. 12 to look into the critical situation surrounding the freedom of the press and the freedom of expression in the country, and on Tuesday he publicly announced his provisional findings.
After Kim Hak-sun first testified in Aug. 1991 that she had been a comfort woman for the Imperial Japanese army, Japanese middle school and high school textbooks written in the mid-1990s gave substantial coverage to the comfort women issue.
But following an overall rightward shift in Japanese society, descriptions of the comfort women for the most part disappeared from middle school textbooks in 2006. The high school textbooks that will begin to be used next year have significantly watered down their description of the compulsory nature of the comfort women system. The phrase “rounded up by Japanese troops” is being replaced by “women who were recruited,” for example.
Addressing such trends in Japanese society, Kaye noted that he had heard about the removal of descriptions of the comfort women. “Government interference with how textbooks treat the reality of the crimes committed during the Second World War undermines the public’s right to know and its ability to grapple with and understand its past,” he said.
Kaye also addressed the hate speech and discrimination against minorities that is widespread in Japan today.
“Japan does not have comprehensive legislation to combat discrimination,” Kaye said. “Such legislation is the critical first step toward dealing with hateful expression: Japan must adopt a broadly applicable anti-discrimination law.”
The Liberal Democratic Party is currently drafting a bill related to this, but it would not explicitly forbid racially motivated hate speech.
The attacks on Takashi Uemura, former reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, who first covered the testimony of Kim Hak-sun, and comments by Japan’s Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Sanae Takaichi that the government could shut down broadcasters who continue to air politically biased programs are threats against the press, Kaye said.
By Gil Yun-hyung, Tokyo correspondent, Hankyure Newspaper, firstname.lastname@example.org