WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee overwhelmingly passed a resolution Tuesday demanding an apology from Japan over the sexual exploitation of women in the Asia-Pacific region by the military during the war.
The nonbinding resolution was approved 39-2. It was submitted by Rep. Michael Honda, a California Democrat of Japanese descent, and some Republicans.
“What they said today in their vote was that yes, there were victims, there were women who were used as sex slaves. Yes, there was a systematic military program that captured, coerced women and girls to be used as sex slaves,” Honda told reporters after the resolution was passed.
“It is time that the Japanese government approach and acknowledge, take full responsibility and apologize in an unambiguous, formal way,” he said.
The passage comes despite Japan’s claim that prime ministers have repeatedly offered apologies over the wartime sex slaves. Ambassador to the U.S. Ryozo Kato has warned that the passage of what he branded as a factually unfounded resolution would harm otherwise sound ties between Japan and the U.S.
In Tokyo, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he would not comment on the resolution “because it is a resolution in U.S. Congress.”
“I already explained what I thought when I visited the U.S. (in April),” Abe said.
Abe told members of Congress on April 27 that he felt “deep sympathy as a prime minister as well as an individual” for those who went through the bitter experience of being “comfort women” — Japan’s euphemism for them.
Now that the committee has voted in favor of the resolution, attention shifts to whether it will be put to a vote on the full House floor, with Honda sounding upbeat on its passage through the chamber soon.
Highlights of U.S. resolution
Highlights of U.S. resolution
The following is the gist of the resolution passed Tuesday by the U.S. congressional panel:
● Japan should formally acknowledge, apologize and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner for its military’s coercion of women into sexual slavery during the war.
● It would help to resolve perennial questions about Japan’s sincerity on the comfort women issue if the Japanese prime minister were to offer an apology as a public statement in his official capacity.
● Japan should clearly and publicly dismiss any claims that the sexual enslavement and trafficking of comfort women for the Japanese military never occurred.
● Japan should educate current and future generations about the comfort women following the recommendations of the international community with respect to those women.
“This resolution will go to the floor as a whole, and it’ll probably be done the second or third week of July, hopefully,” he said, adding that given the 39-2 vote, it “will have a good chance of being passed.”
The resolution drew about 140 cosponsors from both the Democratic and Republican parties. It urges Japan’s prime minister to “formally acknowledge, apologize and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner” for the sexual mistreatment of the “comfort women.”
“It is a resolution that seeks admission of a horrible truth in order that this horror may never be perpetrated again,” panel chairman Tom Lantos said.
Its passage followed deliberations on proposed changes to somewhat soften the demand for an apology and added a line to note the importance of Japan-U.S. relations. The changes were proposed by Lantos, a Democrat, and ranking Republican member Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
Abe has offered an apology for the suffering the women endured. He has also repeated he stands by a 1993 official statement acknowledging and apologizing over the matter. But he came under fire earlier this year when he cast doubt that the military coerced the women into its brothels.
During his April U.S. visit, Abe expressed regret about misunderstandings over his remarks and reiterated that he feels sorry for the women who suffered, and U.S. President George W. Bush accepted the apology.
The U.S. State Department is noncommittal on the resolution. Spokesman Tom Casey only said it’s “up to our Congress. They’re a separate branch of government, and they’ll look at things as they see fit.
“In terms of U.S. policy on this, look, the president spoke to this issue when the prime minister was here and as far as the administration’s concerned, I think he’s made our policy views clear on that,” he said.
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