National / History

Government requests revision of 1996 U.N. sex slave report

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

The government has asked the author of a U.N. report that accused Japan of wartime military sexual slavery to amend the document, the top government spokesman said Thursday.

It wants Radhika Coomaraswamy, former Special Rapporteur on violence against women at the U.N. Human Rights Commission, to revise the document she wrote in 1996 in light of the “comfort women” reports recently retracted by the daily Asahi Shimbun, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.

In August, the newspaper retracted 16 articles from the 1980s and 1990s that quoted now discredited testimony by Seiji Yoshida, who claimed he had kidnapped hundreds of Korean women on Jeju Island and forced them into Japanese military brothels. These women, among others, later became known as the “ianfu,” or comfort women — Japan’s euphemism for the sex slaves.

Coomaraswamy’s report quoted Yoshida’s account separately from Asahi’s reports, but the retraction has given political momentum to Japanese lawmakers and scholars who want Coomaraswamy’s report retracted in its entirety.

After entertaining notions of a revision, the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe decided to officially uphold the statement of apology issued by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono in 1993, but the government has at the same time pledged to stage a campaign to correct “wrong” information circulating worldwide.

“It’s true we have asked for correction of her view, as explained in her report, given the recent retraction of reports by Asahi Shimbun,” Suga told a news conference.

“We’d like to keep explaining our way of thinking (on comfort women issues) by using proper opportunities in the international community,” Suga acknowledged.

In September, Coomaraswamy told Kyodo News that she had no intention of correcting her report, saying her findings were mainly based on testimony by former comfort women, and Yoshida’s account was “only one piece of evidence.”

Coomaraswamy’s report was considered controversial in Japan because she concluded that the brothel system should be described as “military sexual slavery,” given “the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised.”

This use of the terms “sex slavery” and “sex slaves,” now widely used by Western media outlets and activists, have upset right-leaning Japanese politicians and scholars who allege that working conditions at the “comfort stations” were no different from those at state-regulated brothels that existed before and after the war in many countries, including Japan.

In the late 1990s, mainstream Japanese historians agreed that Yoshida’s account was a fabrication, given interviews with elderly residents on Jeju who denied it.

They also agreed that the recruitment of female Koreans was the work of private brokers and not the Japanese military or government, although it often involved deception, coercion and human trafficking.

Right-leaning lawmakers thus have tried to play down the Japanese government’s responsibility for the women’s misery, focusing their discussion on the process of recruitment. The Asahi retractions provided further ammunition for their cause.

Meanwhile, South Korean media outlets, scholars and activists have argued the women were forcibly recruited and forced to work by Japanese authorities.

The comfort stations were set up and operated under orders from the Japanese military. Furthermore, the private-sector brokers were usually selected by Japanese authorities.

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