Teacher: Stella Maris Saubidet Oyhamburu
Lengua y Expresión Escrita IV-ISFD 41
The term “Comfort Women” is a wrongly-used softened expression implemented in Japan and Korea to refer to the 200.000 sexual slaves that were coerced to become servants of the Japanese Army in the course of the Pacific War. The first of them to declare did it in 1990 and afterwards, others followed her example. Lee Ok-Seon is now 86 years old and describes the brothel in which she was kept 70 years ago as a “slaughter house” (Felden, 2013). Hah Sang Suk, another victim, stated in an interview that “There were no rest days, and the women couldn’t leave the brothel” (3). Similarly, Yung Tu-Ri was also forced to serve the military in a “comfort station” and during an interview she recalled among other things that she “was too painful to lie down, but […] was [yet] forced to receive soldiers” (35). Although the fight for an official recognition and an apology carried out by the former “comfort women” has gained power internationally, the Japanese Government refuses to take full responsibility to the matter and to openly admit its past crimes concerning human trafficking and forced sexual exploitation during WWII.
Japan has been the perpetrator of one of the biggest cases of sex crimes during World War II. The Geneva Conventions in 1949 agreed that any side to a war dispute between nations or within one must remain respectful towards the main postulates of the International Humanitarian Laws. Hence, any act of torture, sexual violence, humiliation or rape is nowadays considered a war crime. If not “purchased from destitute parents” (Amnesty International, 2009, p. 1), many women and children from different Asian regions were abducted or deceived by the Japanese Military during war with hopeful prospects of working in factories. Afterwards, they were enclosed in facilities called “comfort stations” in which they were raped by 20 to 50 soldiers every day. An estimate of two thirds of them did not survive and of those who did, “many are infertile as a result of their enslavement” (Amnesty International, 2009, p. 1). Having gone through this experience, the remaining former so called “Comfort Women” gather every Wednesday in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul seeking for recognition and compensation.
Up to this day the fight for the recognition of these now elder Asian women’s rights has won support. In 1995, the UN Commission on Human Rights treated this subject claiming that after committing “a minimum 125 million rapes […] Japan has paid nothing to these victims” (UN, 1995). In addition, Amnesty International, an organization for the protection of Human Rights from New Zealand, has created a symbol for the cause in the shape of a butterfly that can be sent online to several politicians with a call for support. Up to this date, more than 18.000 Australians have already sent theirs. Another supporter is the Korean-American artist Chang-Jin Lee who has recently spread public posters throughout New York City with the phrase “COMFORT WOMEN WANTED”. She has also made a documentary and a "Re-creation of a Military Comfort Station" (Lee, 2013) for The Comfort Women Museum in Taipei, Taiwan. Over time more and more people seem to join the cause and seek for justice.
Despite the support this case has in other parts of the world, the Japanese Government still denies owing anything to the survivors. In 1993, the land of the rising sun apologized for the damage caused to these women “…that, in many cases […] were recruited against their own will" (Williamson, 2013) in words of the Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono. Since Japanese textbooks seem to ignore this war crime and many members of the Government sustain that the victims remained in the “comfort stations” by their own will, the former Comfort Women do not think the apology was an honest one. Indeed, the Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, said in 2007 that “there was ‘no proof that the women were forced’ to work in the brothels” (Felden, 2013). The 78 years old South-Korean Lee Yong Soo recently declared that she was abducted from her home by members of the Japanese Military at the age of 14 to serve in Taiwan as a sex slave. Evidently, an agreement between both sides is not likely to be achieved in the near future.
Seven former comfort women are living the last stage of their life in “House of Sharing”, founded in 1992 “through [the contributions] of […] various social [and religious] circles of society” (Nanum-ae-Jip, 2001). These and the rest of them keep telling the world about the devastating and unjustified misfortune that has ruined their existence. By contrast, voices like Toru Hashimoto’s, Governor of Osaka, who said in 2013 that “sex slavery was ‘necessary’ to keep the discipline among the troops” (Felden, 2013), and Shinzo Abe’s seem to deny the undeniable. Everything comes down to the responsibility of a Nation to repair the damage caused to around 200.000 human lives. After all, as Ok-Seon said recently, “Historically speaking the war might have stopped, but for us it's still going on, it never ended” (Williamson, 2013).
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