COLOMBO – A former U.N. researcher who compiled a report urging Japan to apologize and pay compensation over the “comfort women” issue said she sees no need to correct her report made public in 1996 that referred to testimony retracted recently by the Asahi Shimbun, a major Japanese daily.
“We met many comfort women in Korea especially. It was very clear that they were abducted, by no means could one say they voluntarily joined,” Sri Lankan lawyer Radhika Coomaraswamy said in a recent interview in Colombo.
In a review published in August, the Asahi Shimbun retracted articles from the 1980s and 1990s that reported on a Japanese man who said women on the South Korean island of Jeju were forcibly and violently taken to work in brothels for the Imperial Japanese military, admitting that recent fact-checking had shown his accounts were false. The man, Seiji Yoshida, has since died.
Though the 1996 report cited a book written by Yoshida, she said his statement is “only one piece of evidence.”
She said her research, including interviews with the women, found there were cases in which the military had hired private parties to kidnap women, who “were brought and kept in a situation of slavery within the barracks.”
This is the first time that Coomaraswamy, an expert on human rights issues and an advocate for women’s rights, has spoken to the Japanese media since the Asahi retracted the articles early last month.
Despite claims from some quarters that the U.N. report was based on unreliable information, including Yoshida’s testimony, she defended the use of the phrase “sex slaves” to describe the women, saying, “It was really a question of sexual slavery that we were looking at” and that they had “no freedom to leave.”
On Japan’s stance on the sex slave issue, she said it is “very baffling” that Japan does not give justice to these elderly female victims and “acknowledge the wrongdoing,” given that the country’s general policy on human rights is “very progressive.”
In the 1993 official apology statement by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, the government admitted that the Japanese military was involved in the establishment and management of such brothels for its troops and that its own study showed that, in many cases, women were recruited against their will.
Yet the government has still not recognized the existence of evidence that women were forcibly and violently taken away, as stated by Yoshida.
Coomaraswamy said Japan’s current response is a retreat from 1995, when the Asian Women’s Fund was established to compensate former sex slaves, and added that “Japan should be large-hearted” on this issue.
Coomaraswamy was the U.N.’s special rapporteur on violence against women from 1994 to 2003 and published reports for the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. She also served as undersecretary-general of the United Nations, special representative for children and armed conflict from 2006 to 2012.
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