Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Korean Comfort Women Issue during World War II and the Impact on South Korea . Japan Relations by Pornpimol Wimoltada
Korean Comfort Women Issue during World War II and the Impact on South Korea . Japan Relations
Pornpimol Wimoltada Masters of Arts in International Relations, Thammasat University 1270/8 ............... ........... ........... 74110 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The issue of former sexual enslavement by the Japanese military during World War II, known as “Comfort Women”, has become an internationally wellknown issue which many organizations and feminist movements have been given interested to. South Korea generally refer to the surviving “comfort women” as Ch.ngsindae halm.ni83, while official reference term is Ilbonkun wianbu.84This issue may regard as a notable victory in feminist political system and an issue that have become a universal moral issue of women’s human rights (Soh 1996). In series of the UN Human Rights mechanism, there have been several formal hearing and investigations on the comfort women issue, showing the international special interest over the issue. Since the concern of this issue involved directly to South Korea and Japan, in order to understand and analyze the impact of the issue toward the relationship between the two states and to understand to why of till today the issue haven’t been answer to the demand of the former victims, this article will be examining policies from South Korea and Japan Government in coping with the issue. The issue in the international community will also be in the scope of the article in order to analyze whether the comfort women issue have any significant impact towards the relationship between South Korea and Japan.
Keywords: Comfort Women, South Korea, Japan, policy, relations
83 Ch.ngsindae halm.ni means comfort women in an age of grandmother and in some source refer to Jungshindae halmeoni, which is the same meaning but may spell differently due to how each source spell from Korean to English
Ilbonkun wianbu means comfort women for the Japanese troops
One can say that, what happened in the past may have just stayed in the past. But what if there are some past that has emerged in present time, would that past be better left in the past. It is still a question that we are still seeking for answer. One past that has become a present issue and becoming wellknown as a past that should not be forgotten is the “Comfort Women” issue.
The term ‘comfort’, by looking at the meaning we can see that its fall in a positive term. But this word under the vocabulary of women under the colonization of Japan during World War II would have said otherwise. When combined the word ‘comfort’ together with ‘women’ the meaning of these two together is something that goes beyond positive. The socalled “comfort women” are sexual enslavement by the Japanese military during World War II, for the purpose to provide leisure for the Japanese troops during time of war. These women were treated under the status of slave, meaning have to give pleasure in order to survive. Some source may say that this was conducted under a systematic system.
The trauma of the former sexual enslavement by the Japanese military during World War II had been kept in silence since after the end of war. These women stories of suffered and tortured when they were forced as sex slave would have still be in deep silence if there wasn’t any significant movement of feminist groups with the cooperation of former comfort women in reveling their past.
The legacy of the Second World War has been passed on to a new millennium leaving many issues and much justice unresolved. Among these issues are the ‘military comfort women’ who have emerged as an internationally wellknown group of war victims still fighting for compensation (Piper, 2001, p.155). The most significant case at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal held after the AsiaPacific War was the rape and massacre of Chinese women by the Japanese 10th Army and 16th Division in Nanjing in December 1937, referred to by nonJapanese as the “rape of Nanjing” (Tanaka, 1998, pp.92100). Though there is much confusion and controversy over the history of the "comfort stations", but there are facts that Military brothels were created all over the occupied areas of Asia during the war for the use of Japanese soldiers (MorrisSuzuki, 2007).
The institution of military “comfort stations” is where sexual needs of Japanese soldiers were met under the supervision of the state (Soh, 1996, p.1227) and on some source may refer to as the operating system under direct Army operation (Hicks, 1995). The comfort stations were first found situated between Shanghai and Nanking (Hicks, 1995). The comfort house were first established in Shanghai before World War II, in early 1932, was set up by the deputy chief of staff in Shanghai as a military policy to prevent further rape of Japanese soldiers on Chinese women. After the Nanjing massacre, the Japanese forces have set up military brothels in various places for avoiding creating antagonism among Chinese civilians (Tanaka, 1998, pp.92100) and prevent sexual crimes by Japanese soldiers against the women in occupied territories (Soh, 1996, p.1228). This intend to be a good means of providing soldiers with some kind of leisure and avoid the concern of venereal disease that believed to undermine the strength of Japanese soldiers and could create massive public health problems back in Japan once the war was over (Tanaka, 1998). The conditions of these comfort women are very brutal; they would be torture and dead if they refuse to work as prostitutes when they arrived to the camp and some would commit suicide. In the early 1940s, the Japanese military established comfort stations in other parts of the Asian occupied territories, such as Indonesia, Indochina, Thailand, and the Philippines. They also established them in many parts of the Pacific Islands, as well as in Japan, Okinawa, Korea, and Taiwan (Min, 2003).
In the early stage women was recruited voluntary but with the demand of these women grew the tactic of direct recruitment through police or local government or even disguised as drafting for labour of war industries came into force. These women were largely of lower classes citizen with lack of education and in the status of unmarried women (Hicks, 1995). The official public announcement of the Japanese government on the issue of Wartime “Comfort Women” on the operation and management of comfort stations stated that many of the comfort stations were run by private operators and there are some case that were operated directly by the Japanese military, and even the one that are run by private operators, the military is involved directly in the establishment and management of the stations. And on the issue of the recruitment, it was done by private recruiters but there also some cases that where administrative/military personnel directly took part in the recruitments (Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs [MOFA], Cabinet Councilors’ Office on External Affair, 1993).
Most comfort women are from Korea, Taiwan, China, or various places in Southeast Asia (Tanaka, 1998, pp.92100). Out of these comfort women, Korean women were the primary victims of the system (Gordon, 2006; Hicks, 1995; Soh, 1996; Stetz & Oh, 2001). Korean women constituted about 80 percents of the comfort women and were named under the banner of Ch.ngsindae, “Voluntary” Labor Service Corps (Soh, 1996, pp.12278; Stetz & Oh, 2001). Japan started drafting Korean women around 1937 since Korea was under Japanese colonial rule from 1910 to 1945 and assumed that unmarried young women from colonial Korea are virgins and free of sexually transmitted disease. These women were mostly drawn largely from poor families that belonged to the landless tenant or semitenant class in rural areas or to the jobless migrant groups in cities (Min, 2003). The exact number of women mobilized to Japanese military brothels is currently unknown but the estimation of number ranges from 80,000 to 280,000 (quoted in Min, 2003, p.940) or around 200,000 (Soh, 2004; Stetz & Oh, 2001). The approximation of numbers of comfort women indicate that would have been around 139,000. The expected numbers to have survived are about 116,000 and the estimation of surviving comfort women are 58,000 (Hicks, 1995). At present time there are reports about 211 surviving former comfort women whom have been registered as ‘governmentregistered Military Sexual Slavery by Japan’ in South Korea and about 80 of 211 had passed away with old age (The Korean Council for the Women: Drafted for Military Slavery by Japan [KCWS], n.d.).
The events led to an international awareness of the comfort women issue began in 1988. In that year, Professor Yun Chung Ok of Ehwa Women's University in Korea led an activist group that conducted and presented research about the comfort women (Horn, n.d.; Min, 2005; Soh, 1996) given at the International Conference on Women and Tourism on Chejudo Island in April, 1988 on the paper entitled “Following the Footsteps of Comfort Women” (Min, 2005, p.6). In 1990, 37 women's groups in Korea formed the Voluntary Service Corps Problem Resolution Council and demanded that the Japanese government admit that Korean women had been forcibly drafted to serve as comfort women, publicly apologize, fully disclose what happened, raise a memorial, compensate survivors or their families, and include the facts in historical education (Horn, n.d.).
The first Korean woman to come forth to give testimony to her life as “comfort women” and most significance starting of revealing the past was Kim Haksun (Hicks, 1995; Min, 2003; Soh, 1996, 2003; Yoshimi, 1995/2000). Her story was the most significant event in establishing a new interpretation of the comfort women system (Nozaki, 2005). With the initiation of Kim Haksun, later on other former comfort women also initiated separate lawsuits against the Japanese government (Soh, 1996) and came forward to reveal their horrible past to public (Min, 2005; Soh, 1996; Tanaka 1998).
The eruption of “comfort women” issue has created awareness throughout Japan after the subject has become a matter in the nationwide debate in the 1990s. The issue of comfort women didn’t initially gain the attention of the Japanese public (Tanaka, 1998, p.79). At the same time the Japanese state did not admit its involvement in the management and supervision of the “comfort stations” until mid1992, several months after the publication of Professor Yoshimi of his discovery of official documents confirming the state’s heavy involvement in the “comfort women” system (Hicks, 1995; Soh, 1996; Nozaki, 2005), founding evidence that conclusively demonstrated the involvement of the Japanese Imperial Army in organizing the comfort women system for its soldiers, and published his findings in major Japanese newspapers in 1992 (Nozaki, 2005). The socalled evidences, official documents, revealing the fact that the Japanese army directed the setting up of comfort stations is stored in the SelfDefense Agency’s National Institute for Defense Studies Library after it was brought back from the United States after were seized by the Allied Forces after the war ended (Yoshimi, 1995/2000, p.35).
Faced with documentary evidence from its own archives, the Japanese government had no choice but to acknowledge military involvement, and Prime Minister Miyazawa Kiichi officially apologized to South Korea in 1992 (Nozaki, 2005) along with Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato Koichi publicly acknowledged the Japanese military’s participation in organizing the comfort station system (Yoshimi, 1995/2000, p.35; MOFA, 1992). The Japanese has acknowledged a moral responsibility for the situation, but the government’s continuing denial of its legal responsibility (Sakamoto, 2001, p.51).
As of today, the comfort women issue hasn’t been come up as a main issue in any of the argument or discussion between South Korea and Japan. Even though the issue have gain many of the international interest and have been under many talk under the feminist movement, the issue doesn’t seem to have much of an impact in demanding the two states to take the issue more seriously or urging to come up with a solution for the benefit of the victims that have less and less time in waiting for their justice.
From what have stated above, this research is intended to look at three main scopes in order to answer whether the issues of comfort women, which in this research will put significantly on the Korean comfort women, have any impact toward the relationship between South Korea and Japan. First, this article will look at the policies from the South Korean and the Japanese government in dealing with the issue and how they handle with the pressure from the international community especially considering that Japan in playing a guilty role in this issue. By analyzing policies from both states, we can see the stand point of each state and whether there are impacts that the issue have toward the two state relations. Second, since the comfort women issue have come beyond a domestic issue between the two states, this research will also look at the issue in the international community which will show the spotlights that the international community have over the issue and how did the international community played a role in pushing a weight on the issue as an impact in the relationship between the two states. Lastly, from analyzing the policies from both states and the issue in the international community, this research main question is to analyze whether the issue of Korean Comfort Women during World War II will have any impact toward the relationship between South Korea and Japan.
The “Comfort Women” Issue in domestic South Korea and Japan
From 1932 when the first comfort station was established till 1988 when the comfort women issue emerged as an internationally awareness issue, the issue within South Korea was in deep silence. With the lack of documentary evidence, the reluctance of the former comfort women to reveal their past, because the majority of the former comfort women were from lower class of the society with lack of education, and as Korean society is a patriarchal society made the comfort women even more difficult and complicated to surface in the society. When the women activists raised the issue, the initial response of the South Korean government was to ignore the issue. The reasons of the weak response from the government was because of the lack of document evidence to press charges, furthermore the 1965 normalization treaty between South Korea and Japan doesn’t include the issue, and economic development policies of the South Korean government since the early 1960s have included the exploitation of young women not only as cheap laborers at manufacturing companies but also as sex workers in international tourism (Soh, 1996) and from early 1960s onward the South Korean’s military government at that time interested in ‘normalize’ relations with Japan (quoted in Piper, 2001, p.161).
Korean women’s movement, centering on the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan (KCWS), were responsible for raising public awareness of the comfort women issue (Yoshimi, 1995/2000, p.33). Korean movement since 1997 has concentrated on three objectives, to support Korean victims throughout Asia; to lobbies the South Korean and Japanese governments to clarify the “comfort women” situation and to find the one whose responsible and to be punish; and to make connections with other NGOs throughout Asia (Piper, 2001).
In the 1980s, the issue of sex tourism 85 and sexual torture of college women by the police 86 were the major feminist issues in South Korea. These two issues have led Korean feminists to pay special attention to the comfort women issue and also raise the consciousness of sexual violence against women by the power of the state (Min, 2005). The ‘kijich’on movement’ was also another women’s movement that is similar to the comfort women movement, with the objective to protest and redress sexual exploitation and abuse Korean women by foreign man, (Moon, 1999). The objective of the two movements may be similar but there are also lots differences in term of the status of the women. The kijich’on women are the
U.S. military camptown prostitutes while the comfort women claiming that they are not prostitute but rather sexual slavery.
The redress movement in the 1990s in South Korea has helped to change the perception of surviving comfort women by both the media and the general public. Although people in Korea generally accept these women as victims, many people still believe it is a humiliation at the personal and national levels to discuss what happened to them in the hands of Japanese soldiers (Min, 2003).
Sexual double standards and related practices associated with the patriarchal ideology in Korea played a key role in preventing the former Korean comfort women from maintaining normal family lives and keeping them silent for a half century. The experiences of Korean victims with sexual slavery interplayed with patriarchal customs in Korea to keep them silent for a half century. Gender hierarchy in Korea also played a key role in the suffering of Korean comfort women after their return home and keeping their silence. Many victims who have come forward to give their testimonies and have reveal their identity to the public still have to deal with prejudice and stigma attached to sexual victims and is the reason why most victims, including some who participated in the redress movement, have tried not to reveal their identity to their children, spouse, and/or neighbors (Min, 2003).
As of today, there are still acts in performing demonstrations for the objective of voicing for those former comfort women both Korean women and from other territories requesting for
85 Sex tourism refer to as ‘kisaeng kwangkwang’
86 Sexual torture of college women by the police refer to as ‘sunggomoon’
the Japanese government to take responsibilities and compensate the former victims and for restoring the dignity and human rights of all comfort women. The first demonstration started on January 8, 1992, performing on Wednesday which later on has become the socalled ‘Wednesday Demonstration’ (KCWS, n.d.). This Demonstration have become the weekly demonstration which took place in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, and serving as a field of history education and the field of cooperation between organizations. The Demonstration today is still in action and will continuing to be so until the days that the objective of the demonstration is succeed.
In domestic Japan, the issue become publicly acknowledge was when Japanese historian, Professor Yoshimi Yoshiaki, published his discover of official documents confirming the Japanese involvement in the “comfort women” system (Hicks, 1995). Many Japanese women’s support groups began to cooperate with Korean feminist groups after Kim Haksoon, a first former “comfort women”, to give testimony on the “comfort women” issue (Piper, 2001).
There are books written on the “comfort women” issue published in Japan since 1970s (Soh, 1996). Senda Kako (1973) was one of the earliest researchers investigating the comfort women issue (Piper, 2001). Japanese groups have largely neglected the issue of comfort women from within their own society, either Koreans residing in Japan or Japanese women themselves. But there is one group, campaigning on the behalf of the comfort women, that has established transnational alliances is Violence Against Women in War Network (VAWW . NET) Japan (Piper, 2001).
Jeans (2005) had analyze Japanese views of World War II record from the exhibits and descriptive literature of Japanese “war” and “peace” museums, and record in school textbooks. Some of the museums in Japan tend to present Japanese suffering during the years between 1931 and 1945, and some museums are showing Japanese acts of violence during the war. For the textbook story is struggle between revealing and confronting the past, and suppress some of the past. It also mentions that public opinion in Japan doesn’t support the nationalists and conservatives who prefer to downplay Japan’s war record, but support an official apology to Japan’s victims in the war, and the government doesn’t done enough to apologize for the war and assists its victims.
The middleschool textbooks was an issue that was criticized to downplay Japan’s wartime atrocities and considered to be an issue that sparked protest movement in China in April 2005 on the speculation of the Japanese wartime historical truth (Penny, 2008). Which is why as of before the issue emerged as an internationally wellknown issue and as an issue that are being recognized within Japan itself, the issue have been in dark silence buried deep in the past.
In the case of the comfort women issue in domestic South Korea and Japan is considered to be very different from one another. Since the comfort women movement for redress and seeking for formal apology from the Japanese government played significance role within South Korea itself, the issue does prolong larger role than one in domestic Japan. That is why we can see movements of the comfort women issue that are still active or more active in South Korea than Japan since the first state played as the victim while another played as the criminal in the story.
South Korea’s Policies over the “Comfort Women” Issue
With South Korea issues in focus evolving around the issue of Dokdo, East Sea, North Korean Nuclear Issue, and Goguryeo, it can be seen that the issue of “comfort women” isn’t the main focus of South Korea policy. South Korean doesn’t have a specific policy or putting “comfort women” issue as one of the issue in focus that the government are paying special interest to.
In 1998, as the suggestion and request from the Korean Council to the Korean government asking them to pay each former comfort women victims a certain amount of money in avoidance of accepting “charity money” from the Asian Women’s Fund, established by the Japanese government in 1995. The Kim Dae Joong administration responded by paying each Korean victims 31.5 million won ($21,000) in government subsidy and 6.5 million won ($4,344) from a civilianraised fund (Min, 2003).
At the 53th UN SubCommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, held for 3 weeks from July 30 to August 17, 2001, in Geneva, the Minister of ROK stated concerns about the distortion of Japan’s history textbooks and urging that the SubCommission should pay attention to the issue and explore ways and means to countering and preventing the denial of history by Japan for the crime. In the same year, the Minister of Gender Equality delivered a speech pointed out the issue of “comfort women” during World War II and the distortions in Japan’s history textbooks at the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, held in Durban, South Africa, from August 30 to September 7, 2001.
In 2005 at the 61th Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, March 14 to April 22, 2005, in Geneva, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Korea in Geneva raised the issue of distortions in Japan’s history textbooks and urged the Japanese government to take countermeasures.
In 2007, the South Korea government has written reply to the interpellation at the Japanese National Assembly on March 16 on their official stance over the Japanese denying in its armies or government officials’ direct involvement in the forced mobilization of “comfort women” expressing that Japanese should face the truth of history and should accept the advice of the international society. And on March 31, at the ROKJapan Foreign Ministers’ Talks: Domestic/Foreign Press Briefing, H.E. Song Minsoon, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade have given a question and answer session with the press. With the “comfort women” issue have arose as in one of the question, the Minister have express that the ROK government still stand by the position of the idea which correcting the understanding of historical issue will lead to a brighter future of the relationship between the two nations. Minister Song also stressed that the Japanese should take proper measures on the historical issues and should give sincere apology to the Korean people for violating the human rights and mentally suffered of Korean women at the meeting with nine members of Japanese Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in a ‘Study Group for the Vision of Security and Foreign Affairs of Asia’ with former LDP secretary general Kato Koichi and the former vice president of LDP Yamasaki Taku on May 1st .
At the speech marking the 89th anniversary of the March 1 Independence Movement on 1 March 2008, President Lee Myungbak make statement at a ceremony in downtown Seoul over the relationship between South Korea and Japan should ‘tried to foster a futureoriented relationship with a pragmatic attitude, historical truth must not be ignored, but can’t no longer afford to give up the future of the two nations relations due to dispute over the past’. With the bilateral “shuttle diplomacy” was suspended after a year its begin in July 2004 during Roh Moohyun’s administration due to South Korea’s anger over Japanese authority repeated visits to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo venerating, Japan’s war criminals, President Lee Myungbak is trying to mend ties with Japan and resuming the bilateral meeting once again.
On the sideline of the ASEAN+3/East Asian Summit (EAS) held in Vietnam from October 28 to 30, 2010, Foreign Minister Kim Sunghwan had a meeting with his Japanese counterpart Seiji Maehara on October 29. At the meeting, the Korean delegation requested that the Japanese side take steps for headway to understanding history issues and compensation for former “comfort women”.
South Korea government give a press statement in 2007 that the government does not impede international actions or campaigns calling for the compensations by individual victims or related organizations in any way. The government will continue to closely monitor the activities of NGOs and international organizations regarding the issue. The government is urging the Japanese government to face the truth of history and accept the sincere advice of the international society.
According to a Regular Press Briefing given by the Spokesperson and Deputy Minister for Public Relations Kim Youngsun on March 15, 2010, have giving a briefing over the “comfort women” issue which stating the government’s position on standing with Kim Youngsam government of 1993. The basic position is that the government will not demand monetary compensation at the government level and will maintain consistent policy about the issue.
There are reported news updated in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Republic of Korea since 2001 till today reporting that there has been various times that MOFAT have raise about the “comfort women” issue with the Japanese government and also mention about the issue in the international community when chance are given. The South Korean government from the very beginning until now will stand by the Kim Youngsam government of 1993 and there are no evidences that their position will change anytime soon.
Japan’s Policies over the “Comfort Women” Issue
The activist groups took an opportunity when Prime Minister Miyazawa’s visit to South Korea in 1992. They request for an official report on comfort women issue from the Japanese government (Hicks, 1995). The issue of comfort women was brought up in the conversation between Prime Minister Miyazawa and President Roh Tae Woo during Miyazawa’s visit to South Korea in January 1992, which the South Korea side requests for the Japan to make clear on the comfort women issue (MOFA, Cabinet Councilors’ Office on External Affair, 1993). From that day onward, the Japanese government has been placing the comfort women issue under foreign policy on historical issue.
On July 6, 1992, statement made by Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Kato on the issue of “Wartime Comfort Women”, announcing the result of the inquiry of Japan involvement in the issue of “comfort women”. From the statement have revealed that the Japanese government had been involved in the establishment of comfort stations, the control of those who recruited comfort women, the construction and reinforcement of comfort facilities, the management and surveillance of comfort stations, the hygiene maintenance in comfort stations and among comfort women, and the issuance of identification as well as other documents to those who were related to comfort stations. The Japanese government express its sincere apology and determined that these mistake must never happened again.
On August 4, 1993, the Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono have given a statement (hereby will refer to as Kono Statement) on the result of the study on the issue of “comfort women”. It has been confirmed that the comfort stations were operated in extensive areas for long periods and there existed a great numbers of comfort women. These comfort stations were operated in response to the request of the military authorities of the day. The establishment and management of the comfort stations and the transfer of comfort women were directly or indirectly involved by the Japanese military during that time. In the part of recruitment of these women, the Japanese government claimed that they were conducted mainly by private recruiters who acted in response to the request of the military. The Japanese government will face the historical facts instead of evading them and take them as lessons of history and will never repeat the same mistake by engraving these issues in memories through the study and teaching of history. The government will keep on paying full interests and attention to the matter and supporting private researched related to the issue.
As a mark on the 50th anniversary of the end of the war in 1995, the action plan of the government in regarding the former wartime comfort women was made to public by the statement by the Chief Secretary on June 14. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary with remorse of the past, the projects of the “Asian Peace and Friendship Foundation for Women” will be undertaken in regarding to the comfort women issue. The Foundation will have activities to be conducted for former comfort women. The Foundation will raise funds in the private sectors as a means to enact the Japanese people’s atonement for former wartime comfort women. They will also conducted medical and welfare projects and other similar projects for service for former wartime comfort women through the use of government funding and other funds. In relating to the lesson in history, the government will collate historical documents on past wartime comfort women. These projects will played as the expression of the nation’s sincere remorse and apology to the former wartime comfort women.
On July 19, 1995, the “Asian Women’s Fund” (hereby will refer to as the Fund) was established under the cooperation of the Japanese government and citizens of Japan as an expression of atonement on the part of the Japanese people toward former comfort women and for the supports of medical, welfare, and other projects for the behalf of these wartime victims. Through this Fund, the Japanese government intended to play an active role in regarding the issue of women suffering from violence and inhuman treatment in many parts of the world. The statement made on the occasion of the establishment of the Fund is to be called for the understanding and cooperating from every Japanese citizen in regarding actions over the former comfort women issue.
In 2001, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, as Prime Minister of Japan of the time, sent a letter to the former comfort women. In the letter, he expressed his sincere apologies and remorse to all women who underwent immeasurable and painful experiences and suffered incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women. And believed that Japan is aware of its moral responsibilities and should face up to its past history and should accurately convey it to future generations.
From 2007 onward, the Japanese government recent policies on the “comfort women” issue have been express down that as of 1993, when the Japanese government had been expressing its sincere apologies and remorse on the issue through many occasions, through the Asian Women’s Fund which was established in 1995, the Japanese government played as giving specially concern over the issue and tried to make right the wrong. The Japanese government has been providing assistance and massive amounts of money from the national budget to support projects for the Fund as an attempted to fulfill its moral responsibilities toward former comfort women. The government also cooperates with the Fund to compiling documents and materials relating to the comfort women issue to ensure that this kind of issue may never be repeated. Since then, the Japanese government also expressing its concern over the supporting on the international human rights issue.
The issue of “Comfort Women” in the International Community
The issue of wartime comfort women begins to leap into the attention of the international community after a series of hearing by the United Nations Commissions on Human Rights (UNCHR) from 1992 onward (Soh, 2000, p.59). Several formal hearings have been held by the UNCHR Working Groups on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, as well as the UNHCR SubCommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities (Soh, 1996, 2000). When the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women in December 1993, the alarm of the global dimensions of femaletargeted violence were acknowledged by the international community (United Nations, Department of Public Information, 1996).
With the emergence of the comfort women issue, the issues of human rights and women human rights have been pointed as an issue of interest in many of international organization, organizations and NGOs all around the world. We can see through the Washington Coalition for Comfort Women Issues (WCCW) which was founded in December 1992 to promote research and education about crime against comfort women during World War II. It can be said that the comfort women issue is one of the force that made the issue of women human rights, especially the condition of women during the time of war or armed conflict, become a significance concern in the international community. At the World Conference on Human Rights, held in Vienna in June 1993, declared that “violations of the human rights on women in situations of armed conflicts are violations of the fundamental principles of international human rights and humanitarian law” and all violations of this kind including murder, systematic rape, sexual slavery and forced pregnancy “require a particularly effective response” (United Nations, Department of Public Information, 1996).
On November 1994, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) recommended that the Japanese government pay US$40,000 to each survivor (Soh, 1996). At the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995, the Platform for Action was adopted for the need for the punishment and reparation regarding the raping of women during wars (The National Assembly of the Republic of Korea, 2008). On February 6, 1996, the United Nations pronounced its conclusive condemnation of Japan for forcing tens of thousands of women, comfort women, into sexual slavery for Japan’s imperial troops during World War II (Soh, 1996). In 2003, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women issued a recommendation to the Japanese government to seek a longterm solution to the comfort women issue (The National Assembly of the Republic of Korea, 2008).
The judgment of the Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal is the year 2000 for the Trial of Japanese Military Sexual Slavery (Women’s Initiative for Gender Justice, 2000) found that the state of Japan has acted in violation of its treaty obligations and obligations under customary international law. The violation of the treaty obligations are under 1907 Hague Convention Respecting the Laws and Customs of Law on Land, the 1921 International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women and Children, and the 1930 ILO Convention Concerning Forces Labour. Under the violation of norms of customary international law, the court had rule that Japan had violated the 1907 Hague Convention and 1926 Slavery Convention. The Tribunal was represented as the voice of the international community set against the Japanese government, the voice are strongly criticized the Japanese government’s distinction between moral and legal responsibility and demanding the government’s admitted to full legal responsibility (Sakamoto, 2001). The Tribunal is considered to be the first chance for former comfort women, victims of the controversy, to testify against their assailants and begin their struggle for justice (Yoshimi, 1995/2000, p.20). The Tribunal may not had been as success of pushing for the Japanese government to take responsibility in legal term since the Japanese doesn’t acknowledge the Tribunal, but in a way the Tribunal had succeed in acknowledging the world that Japan does considered to have breach numbers of international laws and should take responsibilities over the matter.
Piper (2001) stated in her paper on ‘Transnational women’s activism in Japan and Korea: the unresolved issue of military sexual slavery’ that the issue of “comfort women” during World War II transcends the boundaries of a single nationstate, but have formed links between the Korean and Japanese women’s movement in their campaign. And one that she may have left to mention is that the issue have become a wellknown one that other nationstate is also took concern over the issue. Because not only just the international organizations that are taken the comfort women issue into their scope of interest but many states in the international community are doing the same as well. In 2007, the United States, the European Parliament, Canada and Netherland have passed and adopted calling for a resolution of the issue of military sex slaves (Amnesty International, n.d.; The National Assembly of the Republic of Korea, 2008). In 2008, South Korean Parliament and Taiwanese Parliament also passed the similar resolution (Amnesty International, n.d.). Within Japan itself, some provinces/districts also passed on numbers of resolution (The National Assembly of the Republic of Korea, 2008).
By the sayings of ‘State at anytime cannot suspend or waive any certain fundamental rights of human that must be respected in all circumstances including the right to life, the prohibition of torture and inhuman punishment or treatment, the outlawing of slavery or servitude, the principle of legality and the nonretroactivity of the law and the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion’ (The International Committee of the Red Cross [ICRC], n.d.) and ‘Human rights entail both rights and obligations, and state assume obligations and duties under international law to respect, to protect and to fulfill human rights, protecting individuals and groups against any human rights abuse’ (United Nations, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights [OHCHR], n.d.). In this sense, state must take responsibility in the protection of its own citizen and also to respect the rights of others in the world, and should take responsibility in their action whether it’s the right or wrong one. Since the debate over the comfort women issue involved numbers of parties as victims of the comfort women system during World War II set against the Japanese military of the time and the Japanese government of today and this paper tends to focus mainly on the Korean victims and the impact of the issue, states that should be responsible to take responsibilities over the issue are South Korea and Japan.
The issue of comfort women became widely acknowledges was when activists took an opportunity of Miyazawa visit to South Korea during 1992 presenting with request for an official report on comfort women issue. The Japanese government publishes its report on July 6, 1992 under the title ‘Results of Investigation into the Question of “Military Comfort Women” Originating from the Korea Peninsula’. This Japanese’s report was basically given a general statement of apology to all countries concerned and was the first time that the Japanese government taking the subject of comfort women seriously. On the part of the South Korean government, has released its report on July 31, 1992 with the title ‘Interim Report of the FactFinding Investigation on Military Comfort Women under Japanese Imperialism’ (Hicks, 1995). Both reports from the Japanese government and the South Korea government considered to be a disappointing conclusion for activists, former comfort women, and also in the eyes of people around the world.
By analyzing policies from the South Korea and the Japanese government in dealing with the comfort women issue, it can be concluded that there wasn’t any major countermeasure that will impact the relationship between the two states since the South Korea herself doesn’t take the issue seriously enough that they are willing to pressure and demand the Japanese government to take legal responsibilities over the issue. As for the Japanese government are positively dealing with the issue, while the international community are doing their part as to publicize the issue and giving solution suggestion to the dispute parties.
As of 1992 till today, the South Korean government had been playing as a mediator between former comfort women and the Japanese government. When the government was to receive questions about what action did they have on the behalf of the victims, there were only one response which is that they are doing everything they can and they haven’t forgotten about the issue or the victims. In an outsider eyes or even the eyes of the victims can see that the South Korean government won’t take any countermeasure that will in anyway harm their relations with Japan since the government need to stay in a good term relationship for the benefit of the state.
With the establishment of the Asian Women’s Fund by the Japanese government in 1995 has been criticized by survivors as failing to engage issues of legal responsibility (Chinkin, 2001, p.335), the Japanese government does face with harder responsibility than the South Korean in dealing with the issue. After have admitted to their involvement in the comfort women system during World War II, the Japanese government has been dealing with the issue in a positive term. The government stated their position that in some level they do take responsible for the issue but it doesn’t included the legal responsibility that the victims and the international community are hoping and asking for. Whether Japan had ratified the International Convention for the Suppression of White Slave Traffic (1910) and the International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women and Children (1921) or not, it doesn’t really matter in the concern of the protection of those women at that time since under article 11 of the 1921 convention have stated that neither of the colonies (Korea and Taiwan) would be concluded in the scope of the convention. Which in that case the Japanese government doesn’t see as it has violated any of international laws (quoted in Min, 2003, p.945).
We can see that the Japanese government has been trying to suppress the issue, making it as one that should not be spoken of. There are many incidents that occurred to prove the action of the Japanese government for trying to hide their wrongdoings. Not only just the Japanese government is trying to frequently avoiding mentioning the comfort women issue in the historical textbook for the use as an educational materials for young citizen (Korea’s Official Multilanguage Website, n.d.), but the government also trying to make the trauma into a gain that the government is seeking an opportunity to emerge themselves as a human rights caring nation. In that sense, the Government of Japan believes that the international community has demonstrated a certain level of understanding toward the government effort concerning the human rights issue (MOFA, n.d.) through using the cooperation with projects of the Fund as steps to show the international community that they are truly morally concerned about the comfort women issue but this doesn’t seem to pointed out any consideration on the legal responsibility of the government over the issue.
With series of UNCHR formal hearing and investigations on the comfort women issue have transformed the nature of the debate over the issue from bilateral disputes over Japan’s acknowledged their responsibility toward Korean victims to and international indictment of Japan’s violations of women’s human rights during the war (Soh, 2000, p.60). The international community is also doing what they can to highlight the issue and frequently advising the Japanese government to take more counter responsibility for more than what Japan are doing at the moment.
It can be concluded that since the issue of Korean Comfort Women during World War II have become recognized as an issue in the international arena still seeking for redress and at the same time the Japanese government still stand by their position of denying to take responsibilities, the issue may not have been significantly impact the relationship between South Korea and Japan but the issue will surely impact Japan moral obligation standpoint in dealing with human rights issue. More importantly, when look at the status and the condition of these socalled comfort women during World War II that were under the status of slave, recruited under a false understanding and held against their will, and have to force themselves to do as they are told in order to stay alive, these have left the victims with a trauma that will engrave with them forever. The human rights status of these women considers to have been violated and there are still question of why the issue haven’t been strongly enough to impact the relation between the two states. If we look though the South Korea cultural society as a patriarchal society, this could be one of the reason that have made it harder for the former Korean comfort women to come out and reveal their past or reluctant to fight for their justice, which could be why the South Korean government doesn’t take the issue more seriously and hence the issue doesn’t impact the relationship with Japan. Along with the benefit from being in a good term relationships is more greater than in a bad one even more made the comfort women issue doesn’t top the priority that would made impact toward the two states relations.
Most information of the South Korean’s policies over the comfort women issue are retrieved from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Republic of Korea (MOFAT) and Korea’s Official Multilanguage Website
Japan Foreign Policy are taken from The Official Website of The Ministry of Foreign Affair of Japan (MOFA) under the category of Historical Issues
KCWS, the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, were the pioneer of raising public awareness of the comfort women issue within South Korea society and also push the issue to become internationally wellknown. KCWS is still one of the main movements that are active in seeking for justice along with the victims both within South Korea and cooperate with other movement outside of South Korea as well.
Letter to former Comfort Women is a letter which the Prime Minister, on behalf of the Japanese government, to express apologies and remorse directly to each former comfort women along with the atonement money and welfare support project from the Asian Women’s Fund.
The Asian Women’s Fund was established on July 19, 1995 and was disbanded in March 2007.
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