JAPAN ISSUE BRIEF 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence 2012
STILL NO JUSTICE FOR THE SURVIVORS OF JAPAN’S MILITARY SEXUAL SLAVERY SYSTEM The Japanese Imperial Army from around 1932 to the end of World War II sexually enslaved women throughout the Asia Pacific region. The vast majority of women enslaved were under the age of 20; some girls were as young as 12 when they were abducted. The Japanese Imperial Army used violence and deception to obtain the women and girls. Survivors rarely spoke of their experiences and have suffered from physical and mental ill health, isolation, shame and often extreme poverty as a result of their enslavement.
It was not until August 1991, forty-six years after the end of the war that Kim Hak-soon became the first survivor to speak publicly of her ordeal. Aged 74, her decision was based on having no living relatives to be affected by her past. She in turn inspired many other women to break their silence, including Lola Rosa Hensen who spoke on television and radio in the Philippines in 1992 urging survivors not to feel ashamed but come forward and demand justice.
The Japanese government has vigorously defended its legal position on this issue, persistently maintaining that all issues of compensation have been settled by post-war peace treaties. However, such treaties do not address the system of sexual slavery and do not provide for reparations for the individual victims. Amnesty International believes that the actions of the Japanese government in denying and obstructing justice only compounds the human rights violations committed against the women.
UN Treaty Bodies including the Human Rights Committee, the Committee against Torture, and the Committee for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women have all called on the government of Japan to provide justice to the survivors of Japan’s military sexual slavery system.
On 30 August 2011, the South Korean Constitutional Court ruled in a 6-3 vote that the South Korean government had violated the rights of the survivors of Japan’s military sexual slavery system through its inaction on this issue. The court ruled that it is unconstitutional that the government had made no tangible efforts to settle disputes with Japan over its refusal to compensate Korean women survivors of Japan’s military sexual slavery system. The government of South Korea responded to this by seeking to raise the issue with counterparts in Japan to discuss ways forward. The Japanese government has so far denied the requests.
Japan will be considered under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on 31 October 2012. The UPR is a mechanism of the United Nations Human Rights Council under which it considers the human rights situation in all UN member states. Its key objective is to improve the situation of human rights at the national level. The UPR is carried out by a Working Group of the Human Rights Council through an interactive dialogue between the state under review and other UN member states. During the dialogue, other states make recommendations to the state under review which it may support, reject or take under further under consideration. The review of Japan will very likely include recommendations on ‘comfort women’ and wartime sexual slavery. The action for the 16 days will pressure the Japanese authorities to accept and implement these recommendations in full and without further delay.
Call for Action:
Send a letter to the Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs urging him to accept and implement recommendations made to it during its Universal Periodic Review to unequivocally apologize and provide reparations to the survivors of Japan’s military sexual slavery system. There is a sample letter below.
Published by AIUSA’s Women’s Human Rights Coordination Group