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Oldest Impunity Issue in Asia: Comfort Women

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A recent Washington Post advertisement posted by 63 high ranking Japanese politicians denying the forced prostitution of 200,000 women during WWII remind the international community that the issue of comfort women remain as one of the oldest impunity issues in Asia.
On June 14th, 63 high ranking Japanese politicians placed a full page advertisement in the Washington Post denying that over 200,000 women were forced into sex slavery by the Japanese military during World War II.1 It was a wake up call to the international community that the issue of ‘comfort women’ remains one of the oldest impunity issues in Asia and one that still needs to be addressed. “Comfort women” refer to those from Korea, China, as well as other Asian countries that were lured into forced prostitution for Japanese troops at the so-called “comfort stations” through false promises of factory or office jobs during World War II. While the politicians who signed the advertisement argue that there is no proof that the prostitution was in fact forced sex slavery, numerous cases of former victims’ testimonies indicate the contrary.

In the past, the testimonies of former comfort women have prompted much international attention and action from various sectors including larger inter-governmental organizations such as the UN and ILO. The UN appointed Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women in 1998, submitted her report on the violence against women, its causes and consequences.2 The issue of comfort women was also addressed in a report on systematic rape, sexual slavery, and slavery-like practices during armed conflict prepared by Special Rapporteur on War-Time Military Sexual Slavery, Gay J. McDougall.3 Similar to this, the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR) of the International Labor Organization (ILO) have discussed the relevance of the 1930 Forced Labor Convention on the issue of the wartime “comfort women”.4

Despite these efforts however, there have been few accomplishments made to bring justice to the former comfort women. Impunity prevails as the Japanese government is outwardly denying the incident from ever occurring. The recent statement made by the Japanese parliamentary members through the Washington Post advertisement has angered many US politicians including Vice President Dick Cheney. On June 26, US House of Representatives is planning to present resolution HR-121, calling on the Japanese government to formally acknowledge and apologize for its acts of forcing women into sex slavery during World War II. 5 It will be interesting to see what the outcome of this resolution will be as the US gets more involved. However, various Asian governments and NGOs should be reminded that it is them that should be at the forefront of this fight to put an end to impunity regarding the issue of comfort women. FORUM-ASIA recently addressed this issue of impunity and the rule of law at the 1st East Asian Human Rights Forum 2007(EAHRF) held in Seoul and Kwangju, South Korea from 15 to 18 May 2007.

Along with promoting and protecting human rights through addressing the rule of law and impunity, Asian civil society should also work to pressure the Japanese government to ratify the First Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which would then allow for communication from individuals claiming to be victims of violations of rights under the ICCPR. FORUM-ASIA has launched a two-year Asian Human Rights Day Campaign: Ratify, Remove, Report and Remedy, together with non-governmental organisations and civil society groups throughout Asia. For more information please visit:

2 Sihyun Cho, Presentation on “ Impunity and the Japanese Military Sexual Slavery”, 1st East Asian Human Rights Forum 2007(EAHRF)
3 Ibid
4 Ibid