Tag Archives: human right issue

WW II ‘comfort women’ push fight for justice, compensation


Manila (Reuters) — For decades, Filipino former World War II sex slaves have been fighting for recognition and compensation for the horrors they endured at the hands of the Japanese Imperial Army.

But their campaign has seen little success and now the few surviving “comfort women” left in the Philippines, are hoping the next generation will continue their fight.

The group called themselves “Pamana”, or “Inheritance” in Filipino, consisting of a handful of supporters and descendants of the former Filipino “comfort women”, a Japanese euphemism for sex slaves.

Members of the “Pamana” were in charge of spreading information and joining protest actions on behalf of the former Filipino comfort women.

They regularly hold meetings at a run-down resource center, which was being co-managed by their group and women’s rights organization Lila Pilipina.

Former comfort women Hilaria Bustamante and Estelita Dy act as caretakers of the center, which holds the records of all documented Filipino sex slaves under the three-year Japanese rule from 1942-1945.

Bustamante, 89, was abducted from her home and raped inside a Japanese garrison when she was 16. She said she suffered psychological trauma growing up and cannot forget the ordeal even today.

“It’s not easy to forget what happened. We will bring this memory down to our graves. even if they give an apology, it is still difficult to forget. It is already marked in us,” she said.

Bustamante and Dy decided to offer their support in the early 90s, joining various street protests to demand compensation and justice from the Japanese government. They now live inside the center and teach visitors about the importance of women’s rights and the lessons of war.

“We just don’t want another war because if there’s another war, what happened to us may happen again to the newer generations,” said 85-year-old Dy.

Melinda Relos, a member of Pamana whose mother was a former comfort woman, said the centre was facing challenges in funding for upkeep and maintenance.

She said the center operates solely on grants and donations from non-profit groups, making it difficult to preserve and maintain the documents which were slowly crumbling with age.

Despite the challenges, Relos said members of Pamana like her will not leave the centre nor their advocacy for the former Filipino comfort women.

“Even if there are no longer any grandmothers present, we are still here. There are still surviving children, grandchildren and supporters that can join and continue the fight of our mothers,” she said.

Lila Pilipina has records of 174 Filipino comfort women when they started documentation in 1992, but said the total surviving victims could be less than 70 with many of the survivors dead due to old age.

Like their counterparts in China and South Korea, the Filipino former comfort women have been demanding justice through compensation and a public apology from the Japanese government.

Japan acknowledged in 1993 that the state played a role in forcing Korean and Chinese women into military brothels and set up a fund to provide compensation to survivors in 1995. However, Japan has refused to pay direct compensation to survivors.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a former critic of the 1993 statement, now says he will uphold it. Many Japanese conservatives say there is no proof that authorities directly coerced the women.


Photo exhibition on ‘comfort women’ from across Asia to open in Tokyo

A South Korean photographer whose past exhibition was called off amid protests will showcase portraits of wartime “comfort women” from across Asia at a Tokyo gallery from Sept. 4.

Ahn Se-hong’s newest exhibition, titled “Juju: Inerasable vestige,” will feature around 70 pictures of 46 former comfort women, who were forced to provide sex in front-line brothels for the Japanese military during World War II.

Since 1996, the Nagoya-based Ahn, 44, has photographed about 60 former comfort women from South Korea, China, the Philippines, Indonesia and East Timor.

In 2012, the Nikon Salon gallery in Tokyo, a prestigious venue for photographers, canceled Ahn’s comfort women exhibition amid numerous protests and threats by those who accused him of falsifying history.

The Tokyo District Court ordered the exhibition to proceed, and it was held with metal detectors at the entrance. Ahn said he was forbidden to freely talk to visitors at the venue and from displaying titles and captions for his pictures.

In an ongoing civil suit at the Tokyo District Court, the photographer is demanding compensation from Nikon Corp., the operator of the gallery, and others involved, for their decision to call off the exhibition.

“I hope it will never happen again for a photo exhibition to be canceled just because the theme touches upon a specific social issue,” Ahn said.

The photographer started interviewing and photographing former Korean comfort women at the House of Sharing nursing home for such women in South Korea in 1996.

He started taking photos of former comfort women in China in 2001 and made trips to the Philippines, Indonesia and East Timor to meet with surviving women in 2013 and 2014.

In his upcoming exhibition, the subjects include a Chinese woman from Shanxi province in her 90s who said she was taken away by Japanese soldiers in 1941. She was pregnant at the time and suffered a miscarriage.

She told Ahn that she was then forced into service as a comfort woman and gave birth to a child of a Japanese soldier. As she was convinced that the child would be loathed and discriminated against in her village, she abandoned the infant in the mountains.

An East Timorese woman in her mid-80s said she was taken away from her home to become a comfort woman in 1942 when she was in her early teens. Her arm still bears the tattoo of a name of a Japanese woman.

She said she was forced to provide sex to Japanese soldiers for three years, as people managing her brothel threatened to kill her family members if she fled.

“Women who were forced into service as comfort women have never truly overcome the pain they suffered 70 years ago,” Ahn said.

The title of the exhibition, “Juju,” which translates as “thick layers,” is meant to express the agony of these women, symbolized by their thick wrinkles, the photographer said.

“Adding to the tragedy is the burden they have shouldered during the postwar period as they have been harshly discriminated against in their communities,” Ahn said.

The photo exhibition will run through Sept. 13 at Session House gallery in Shinjuku Ward. Admission is free. For more information, call the event organizer at 080-6952-7849.

Korean sexual slavery victim urges Obama to guide Abe onto right path

Surviving comfort woman, Bok-dong Kim, now 89
Surviving comfort woman, Bok-dong Kim, now 89

WASHINGTON, June 29 (Yonhap) — An elderly South Korean victim of Japan’s wartime sexual slavery on Monday urged Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to own up to the atrocity while at the same time calling on U.S. President Barack Obama to “guide a friend onto the right path.”

Kim Bok-dong, 89, issued the appeal after arriving in Washington to attend a protest rally to be held in front of Japan’s embassy on Wednesday to denounce Tokyo’s attempt to whitewash the atrocity and to call for a clear apology and compensation.

The rally would represent the 1,185th “Wednesday rally” sexual slavery victims and activists have held in front of Japan’s embassy in Seoul since 1992. It would also mark the first time for a sexual slavery victim, known euphemistically as “comfort women,” to hold a rally front of Japan’s embassy in Washington.

“Even if Abe didn’t do it and the emperor did it, he should ask for forgiveness for what his ancestors did because it is him that is now holding power,” Kim told reporters at a news conference, urging the Japanese leader to offer a legal apology and compensation and restore the honor of victims.

Kim, who was born in 1926, was forced into sexual slavery at age 14 and had to provide sex for Japanese troops in China, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. It was when Korea was a Japanese colony from 1910 to 1945.

Kim said she was told she was going to a military uniform factory, but ended up at a Japanese military-run brothel. In an attempt to cover up the sexual slavery at the end of the war, Japanese authorities also had victims work as nurses, Kim said.

Kim said she even had to donate blood for Japanese troops.

“Those who even stole my blood are now denying this,” she said.

Kim said she thinks Korea has not been liberated from colonial rule yet as the sexual slavery issue has not been resolved.

Before Washington, Kim attended a United Church of Christ workshop in Cleveland and spoke about the hardships she went through.

While in Washington, Kim also plans to attend a George Washington University seminar on the issue and hold a meeting with State Department officials, including Cathy Russell, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues.

Kim’s effort to raise issues on forgotten comfort women was recognized internationally. Earlier this month, the 89-year-old was honored as one of the top 100 “Information Heroes” by the the Paris-based group,Reporters Without Borders.

Historians estimate that up to 200,000 women, mainly from Korea, were forced to work in front-line brothels for Japanese soldiers during World War II. But Japan has long attempted to water down the atrocity.

The sexual slavery issue has been the biggest thorn in frayed relations between Japan and South Korea, with Seoul demanding Tokyo take steps to address the grievances of elderly Korean victims of the atrocity and Japan refusing to do so.

Photojournalist publishes book on testimonies of 18 former ‘comfort women’

NAGOYA–Disgusted by denials, a photojournalist has published a collection of testimonies and photos of Korean women who were forced to provide sex for Japanese soldiers before and during World War II.

Takashi Ito, 62, published the book in late February amid growing criticism of the 1993 statement by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, which apologized to the women euphemistically called “comfort women” and admitted the Japanese military’s involvement in managing the frontline brothels.

The book is titled “Mugunghwa no Kanashimi: Shogen–‘Seidorei’ ni Sareta Kankoku-Chosenjin Joseitachi” (Mugunghwa’s sadness: Testimonies–Korean women who were forced to become sex slaves).

Mugunghwa is the Korean name for the rose of Sharon, a flower popular on the Korean Peninsula.

“Do you think that elderly women tell lies before they die? I want you to think about that question by reading all of their testimonies,” said Ito, who lives in Mie Prefecture.

In 1991, a South Korean woman revealed her experience as a comfort woman for the first time in her country. Since then, Ito interviewed about 90 women in South Korea, North Korea, China, Taiwan and other regions.

In 2012, Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto said, “Japan’s view is that there was no clear evidence to prove that those women were brought in against their will.”

The remark led Ito to rearrange the testimonies and photos he had run in books and magazines into a new collection.

Of the 90 women Ito interviewed, half have since died, including 18 women featured in his latest collection. He says their testimonies are their “wills.”

One of the women said in the book, “I was kidnapped by a Japanese soldier on a truck.”

The book also carries stories by residents who survived the years of war.

Some of the stories were vague because about 50 years had passed.

However, some women provided graphic details about the barbarous acts of Japanese soldiers. The women showed burn scars on their necks or tattoos on their chests or stomachs.

They also described the misery they experienced after World War II ended.

One of the 18 women said her husband reviled her, saying, “You are a former comfort woman.” Some revealed that they were unable to return to their hometowns after the war ended.

Many former comfort women have lived in poverty. But they refused to accept “compensation” from the Asian Women’s Fund, operated under the initiative of the Japanese government, saying Tokyo’s apology is insufficient.

Confucianism, which associates sexual suffering with shame, remains strong in South Korea and North Korea. Despite that thinking, the women revealed their names and faces when they discussed their experiences. Their actions made Ito feel that they were eager to tell the truth about what had happened before they died.

Currently, Ito regrets the Abe administration’s move to examine the process leading to the 1993 Kono statement.

“If there is no written evidence, does that mean that the women are telling lies? We should listen to their words and face up to history,” Ito said.

Mugunghwa is often regarded as a symbol of the Korean people’s resistance to invasions by major powers. Former comfort women love the flower, but it also represents their sadness.

The 226-page collection of testimonies and photos, published by Fubaisha Inc., is priced at 1,800 yen (about $17.50), excluding tax.

By Asahi Shinbun Report.asahi