Japan has rejected an assertion by the U.N.’s human rights watchdog that it should accept full blame for pressing Asian women into wartime sexual slavery in military brothels, saying it was not obligated to do so.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee in Geneva on Thursday called on Japan to take responsibility for its use of “comfort women” before and during World War II, using Japan’s euphemism for the coerced girls and women.
The foreign ministry responded Friday by saying the U.N. committee was expected to adhere to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Tokyo ratified in 1979. “The covenant is not supposed to be applied to issues, including the comfort women issue, dating back further than that time (1979),” an official at the ministry’s press division said.
Tokyo issued a landmark apology in 1993 called the Kono statement, named after then-top government spokesman Yohei Kono, who announced it, that officially acknowledged the Japanese military used coercion in operating the brothel system but did not admit the government’s complicity.
But a tranche of the political right, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, continue to cast doubt on the Kono statement, claiming the brothels were staffed by professional prostitutes. Japan recently conducted a review of the issue that upheld the apology and the historical facts behind it but asserted there was no evidence to corroborate the interviewed comfort women’s testimony on the sexual slavery, sparking regional anger.
With few official records available, many researchers have estimated that around 200,000 women, mostly from Korea but also from China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan and elsewhere, were forced to provide sex for Imperial Japanese soldiers in “comfort stations.”
Japan previously offered to compensate former comfort women through a private fund set up in 1995 that lasted until 2007. But many of the survivors shunned the cash because it did not come directly from the government, which says all issues of wartime compensation were settled when it signed an agreement in 1965 with South Korea to normalize bilateral relations.