Women rights group demands Japan for an apology on international ‘comfort women’ day

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A Taiwan-based women rights organisation has called on Japan to issue a sincere apology on international ‘comfort women’ day.

By: Roshni Kapur

During international ‘comfort women’ day that falls on 14 August, a Taiwan-based women rights group called on Japan to show more remorse to the women who were coerced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II. 

The Taipei Women’s Rescue Foundation, which helps Taiwanese “comfort women,” led a protest outside the Taipei Office of Japan’s Interchange Association earlier on Monday to seek a formal apology from the Japanese government and to present a petition to the association’s officials.

Japan first issued a formal apology to the women in 1993 which the foundation has discredited as insincere and says that Japan needs to express further remorse for its actions.

The rally was part of a global action to seek justice for ‘comfort women’. “We are demanding that Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe issue an official apology to these women in Taiwan,” Kang Shu-hua, executive director of the Taipei Women’s Rescue Foundation was quoted in an online article on Focus Taiwan.

“The apology should be accompanied by specific legal actions,” she added.

“We are asking for legal compensation and for the Japanese government to admit its mistakes and use that money as compensation for the suffering of these women.”

A bilateral deal was reached between Japan and South Korea last year to settle the “comfort women” issue- the first such deal since 1965. Japan had apologised for its crimes against wartime ‘comfort women’ and agreed to compensate the victims with US$8.3m for forcing women to work in Japanese brothels during World War II

The money goes to a foundation set up by the South Korean government for women who were forced to work as sex slaves during the war. The issue has been a key cause of tension between the two countries where South Korea has pushed for stronger apologies and compensation from its neighbour. The deal is expected to go a long way that will normalise ties between the two countries.

Fumio Kishida, the Japanese foreign minister, said the compensation was a project to restore the “dignity” of the women- a position some former “comfort women” criticised.

There are differing accounts on why it has taken so long for Japan to address the ‘comfort women’ issue.  Japan had long maintained that its compensation of US$800 million to South Korea in 1965 settled the issue which South Korea denies.

Approximately 200,000 women served as sex slaves by the Japanese Imperial Military in the occupied territories during the Second World War. While most of the sex slaves came from Korea, others were from China, Taiwan, the Philippines and Indonesia.

The BBC noted that “the dozens of surviving women have asked for a formal apology specifically addressed to themselves and direct compensation. They say past expressions of regret have been only halfway and insincere.”

The decision to commemorate international ‘comfort women’ day was made by the 11th Asian Solidarity Conference for the Resolution of the Japanese Military Sexual Slavery. On 14 August 1991, the late Kim Hak-sun, a South Korean survivor, spoke for the first time in public about the brutality and violence she experienced as a ‘comfort woman’. Earlier this year, former “comfort woman” Cheng-Chen Tao passed away at the age of 93, leaving behind three Taiwanese “comfort women” survivors.

South Korean president Park Geun-hye said on Monday that nine survivors had died this year alone.  “I hope the mental pains of the elderly comfort women will be eased,” she said after the deal was formally announced.