Comfort women deserve justice
They are dying off now, the women who suffered so deeply.
In their late 70s or early 80s, they are frail and sad, though still filled with the indescribable anger only they know. Their anger stems from having had their youth stolen from them so horrifically more than 50 years ago. Most never recovered.
They are the "comfort women" the world has come to know. Just girls back then - some as young as their pre-teen years - they became sex slaves; raped, beaten and traumatized by invading Japanese forces during World War II.
Only in the past several years, these women from various Asian nations - Chinese, Koreans, Filipinos, Indonesians and some others - have been fighting with what energy they have left to be compensated. They wish to be recognized for the lives of suffering they have lived since sexual brutality was inflicted on them.
They have taken their cases to the Japanese courts, demanding financial compensation. But more than anything, they want an apology from the Japanese Government for the pain, humiliation, and psychological trauma they suffered when soldiers callously walked into their homes and took them away from their mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, who stood by screaming and crying.
Two such Chinese women, Guo Xicui and Hou Qiaolian from Shanxi Province, sued the government of Japan in 1996, and asked for 20 million yen (US$190,000) for their suffering.
Guo was 15 and Hou was 13 when each was kidnapped, held, and raped day after day by Japanese soldiers for more than a month during the invasion of China. Hou's family is now acting as the plaintiff in her case because she died without redress four years ago.
Last week, the High Court in Tokyo, without comment, simply upheld an earlier district court's ruling that rejected the women's demands. It held that the district court's ruling in 2002 was correct in stating the government has no legal obligation to pay the women any damages. The district court said China had waived its rights to seek compensation from Japan under a 1952 peace treaty, and in any case, the statute of limitations was just 20 years.
The district court also found that Japan's current government is not responsible for what wartime rulers had done under a prewar constitution. Yet the judge added insult to injury by noting that the sexual assaults against the women were not systematically conducted or authorized by the Japanese Government, according to a report in China Daily.
This finding was made even though more than 200,000 women reported they had suffered such treatment at the hands of the Japanese forces at the time of the invasion. Unable to have a complete departure from reality, the district judge did acknowledge that those who suffered the sexual enslavement at the hands of the so-called Imperialsoldiers had gone on to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and other problems.
Guo's and Hou's lawsuit can still be elevated to the Japanese Supreme Court. The women's lawyers, reportedly, have said that they will attempt an appeal at that level.
Dozens of other such court cases are still pending, clogging the Japanese courts.
Still, Japanese officials recently announced that a private fund that has been used to compensate a few comfort women will be dissolved in March 2007. The fund, with US$5.4 million in its coffers, has already served its purposes, they said.
It was formed by the government, but independently operated with private donations. It offered money to some 365 women without the funds coming from a "government" source, thereby avoiding any recognition of official responsibility.
Indeed, a mere US$19,400 in compensation was granted to 285 women each in the Philippines, the Republic of Korea and China's Taiwan Province, along with some medical assistance, media reports indicated.
The fund's activities represent a drop in the ocean, a sad attempt at public relations by Tokyo, and it has accomplished only a little for a few.
So time is also running out for the comfort women, most of whom have been unable to receive even a margin of justice or redress. But time is also running out for Japan, which will carry this historical dishonour with it forever unless it chooses soon to remedy the situation.
The Japanese people deserve better than their government has given them. They should demand their leaders move the matter out of the courts. They should demand their representatives prepare and pass legislative action that will compensate these women in an appropriate manner.
The Japanese people are humane and care about their image in the world. They do not want their nation to move forward still stained and sullied with the sins of the past.
They should demand their prime minister do what is right and correct, and stand up to right-wing political pressure that would keep him from making a full and complete apology to these aging women before they die.
Only then will history record that Japan has righted a great moral wrong.
(China Daily 03/28/2005 page6)
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