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Japan to scrutinize U.N. recommendation on 'comfort women'

Kyodo

The government said Friday it will look closely at a U.N. body’s recommendation urging Japan to apologize and pay compensation to “comfort women” who were forced to work in World War II military brothels.

The issue was included in a total of 218 non-legally binding recommendations on Japan’s human rights record adopted Thursday by the U.N. Human Rights Council’s working group in Geneva.

“Generally speaking, the preliminary report tends to list remarks and recommendations by only a few countries or regions,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference.

The comfort women issue — a source of diplomatic conflict between Tokyo and Seoul as many of the women were from the Korean Peninsula — was raised at the request of South Korea and China.

Suga said Japan had countered the two countries’ claims for inclusion of the issue and explained its stance at the council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group on Tuesday. Japan touched on a 2015 landmark agreement with South Korea in which the two countries agreed the matter was “resolved finally and irreversibly,” he said.

Suga also said Japan will examine the contents of the interim report and deal with it “in an appropriate manner.”

The working group called on Japan to take measures to protect the freedom of the press amid concerns that laws aimed at curtailing leaks of state secrets could impede the work of journalists. The issue’s inclusion was requested by the United States and others.

Under the Law on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets, which came into force in 2014, civil servants or others who leak designated secrets can face up to 10 years in prison, and those who instigate leaks, including journalists, can be subject to prison terms of up to five years.

Also in relation to freedom of the press in Japan, the recommendation calls on the country to amend Article 4 of the broadcasting law that gives the government authority to suspend the broadcasting licenses of TV stations not considered “politically fair.”

In Geneva on Thursday, Yoshifumi Okamura, Japan’s ambassador in charge of human rights who attended the working group, said he personally believes there is nothing to be ashamed of regarding the situation of freedom of the press in his country.

The recommendations are a “good opportunity to demonstrate to the international community the fact that freedom and human rights are guaranteed” under Japan’s Constitution, Okamura said.

The recommendations reflected the views of some 105 countries.

The U.N. council will adopt recommendations that have been accepted by the country in question at a plenary session around next March.

The U.N. Rights Council is mandated to “undertake a universal periodic review” of whether countries are meeting their human rights obligations and commitments. The examination is conducted on all 193 members of the United Nations in periodic cycles of a few years and the latest review was the third for Japan.