Supporters laud U.S. motion on ‘comfort women’ as first step

by Setsuko Kamiya

Supporters of surviving wartime sex slaves praised a U.S. congressional committee’s Tuesday approval of a resolution calling on Japan to officially apologize.

Several groups said Wednesday they hope the House of Representatives passes the resolution next month as scheduled and more pressure is put on Tokyo to act.

“We aren’t rejoicing because nothing has really been accomplished yet. But it’s a step forward,” said Yoko Shiba of Japan Action Network for the Issue of Military Sexual Slavery, an umbrella organization comprising 17 human rights groups supporting legal action against the government by former “comfort women” from South Korea, China, Taiwan, the Philippines and other areas.

Rutsuko Shoji, a cochairwoman of Violence Against Women in War — Network Japan who has visited former sex slaves to research the issue, said she has been impressed with the efforts of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee to conduct a thorough investigation, including questioning survivors.

“The Japanese government should see this as a good opportunity to apologize,” she said.

The groups said they will continue to push the government to invite survivors to the Diet and hear their voices, and also to write official letters of apology to all victims.

“Many continue to suffer not only from what happened during the war but long after, because they were looked down on by relatives and local communities as ‘traitors,’ ” said Hiroko Tsubokawa, a member of a group supporting the legal battle of Chinese former comfort women. “The only way they can regain their dignity is to get an official apology from the government.”

She said supporters will also work to get the issue back into middle school textbooks. Only two out of the eight textbooks in use include sex slavery as part of war history, she said.

In 1993, then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono acknowledged the government’s involvement in the sex slavery during the war and expressed sincere apologies and remorse.

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