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Comfort Women Testify to U.S. Congress
Bill would demand Japanese government apology to former sex slaves
Se Jeong Kim (sm830311)     Print Article 
Published 2007-02-17 12:39 (KST)   
Three surviving "comfort women" -- sexual slaves to the Japanese military in World War II -- testified before the U.S. House of Representatives in support of a bill that urges the Japanese government to acknowledge and apologize for the cruelty inflicted upon them.

Representative Michael M. Honda (D-CA) who sponsored H. Res. 121, insisted on Japan's strong responsibility. "I feel strongly that accepting responsibility for the comfort women tragedy is worthy of a nation as great as Japan. I also feel strongly that reconciliation on this issue will have a positive effect upon relations in the region as historical anxieties are put to rest."

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Among the three witnesses was an Australian woman, Jan Ruff O'Herne. In 1942, she was interned in Java (now part of Indonesia) where she was born, and after two years, drafted to a comfort women station. "The horrific memories of 'opening night' of the brothel have tortured my mind all my life," she said of the vivid remembrance of the first day at the station.

O'Herne recounted how she was threatened to give into soldiers when they came to her in the room. "He took his sword out of its scabbard and pointed it at me, threatening me with it, that he would kill me if I did not give into him," she said.
"He then threw me on the bed and ripped off all my clothes... When he eventually left the room, my whole body was shaking. I gathered up what was left of my clothing, and fled to the bathroom. There I found some of the other girls. We were all crying, and in total shock. In the bathroom I tried to wash away all the dirt and the shame off my body. Just wash away. But the night was not over yet, there were more Japanese waiting, and this went on for all night. It was only the beginning, week after week, month after month."
The other two witnesses were Korean women. Soh Ok-cha said discrimination over ethnicity existed, and "women of non-Japanese or non-European origin were generally treated even worse in terms of conditions of life in the comfort stations."

The total number of women forced into sexual slavery by Japan is hard to estimate, but most experts put it at around 200,000 women and girls captured to provide sexual pleasure to the Japanese soldiers. The large majority of the victims were Koreans, but the Japanese also captured Chinese, Taiwanese, Filipino, Dutch and Indonesian women.

Soh criticized the Allied Forces, led by the U.S., for their handling of the war crimes trials in the aftermath of Japan's defeat. She said they protected the criminals who operated the comfort system rather than imposing an adequate punishment.

In the past, Japan has been quite reluctant to confront the comfort women issue. Until 1993 when the Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yohei Kono, expressed the government's sincere apology and remorse for the ordeal, Japan had dealt the problem with silence.

In 1995, Japan established the Asian Women's Fund to compensate the victims. Yet most women boycotted the fund, criticizing it was a private fund through which Japan made an artificial and disingenuous apology. Additionally, the fund required abandonment of the right for the victims to seek redress for their sufferings, Soh said.

The bill, H.Res. 121, was introduced last month to urge Japan to reconcile with the victims and neighboring nations over the comfort women tragedy. The resolution makes four suggestions: to formally acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical responsibility of the comfort women system; to make an official apology by the Prime Minister of Japan; to refute any claims that the comfort women operation had never occurred; and to educate current and future generations about the cruel history of comfort women.

By nature, the bill will not have the force of law, and the reaction in the Japanese government remains to be seen. Neither the Embassy of Japan here in D.C. nor the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs released any statement in response.

©2007 OhmyNews

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