Professor of Gender and War. University of Sydney

Ongoing Efforts to Provide Justice to Survivors of Japan’s ‘Comfort Women’ System

SUMMARY: The survivors of the ‘comfort women’ system – girls and women taken by Imperial Japanese Army and forced into sexual slavery in military brothels, before and during WWII – first gained public attention during the 1990s when the Japanese government issued a brief apology in 1993. The Japanese government has not acknowledged the criminal nature of this occurrence, and has not made restitutions to these women. The obligation of states to “provide those who claim to be victims of a human rights or humanitarian law violation with equal and effective access to justice … irrespective of who may ultimately be the bearer of responsibility for the violation” is not easily enforceable by members of the international community. The international community did however respond with the creation of the Tokyo Women’s Tribunal from 8 December – 10 December 2000. The tribunal interviewed women, conducted research into the comfort women system and a legal trial. The findings suggest between 100,000 and 200,000 women were placed in these brothels, and the majority were ‘girls’ (less than 18 years old). In addition to being repeatedly raped, the women were subjected to other forms of torture, and denied any liberty of movement. Many women felt unable to return to their families, and silenced by their traumatic experiences, leaving serious psychological and physical health problems. While the tribunal findings have influenced social understandings of the comfort women, legal and institutional ‘justice’ has not been executed. These women are still waiting for formal compensation and recognition.

SOURCE: Ustina Dolgopol, May 12 2015, ‘ Searching for justice: the Tokyo Women’s Tribunal,’ Open Democracy,’s-tribunal

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