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Date: Fri, 16 Oct 98 11:24:06 CDT
From: rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: RIGHTS-JAPAN: 'Comfort Women' Battle On Despite Legal Blow
Article: 45484
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.18701.19981017121651@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

/** ips.english: 518.0 **/
** Topic: RIGHTS-JAPAN: 'Comfort Women' Battle On Despite Legal Blow **
** Written 4:08 PM Oct 15, 1998 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **
Copyright 1998 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

'Comfort Women' Battle On Despite Legal Blow

By Suvendrini Kakuchi, IPS
12 October 1998

TOKYO, Oct 12 (IPS) - Lola Tomasa Salinog, 68, bowed her head low and wept into her wisened hands Friday when a Japanese judge rejected the suit filed by 46 ageing Filipino women seeking compensation for Tokyo's sexual slavery five decades ago.

"I have suffered for more than fifty years and have yet to find justice. Is it right for a judge to give a decision ignoring the crimes committed to us?" she asked a crowded room of reporters here.

Tomasa was 13 and had not yet reached puberty when she was dragged away by Japanese soldiers who had occupied the Philippines in the forties. She saw her father, who tried to stop the men from coming in, being hacked to death with a sword by a soldier who had broken down the door to their home.

The Oct 9 verdict, on what is the second of seven suits filed with Japanese courts by 65 former "comfort women", dealt a setback to efforts by these war victims and women activists to get compensation and legal recognition from the courts.

They had been hoping for a victory after an April decision by the Shimonoseki branch of the Yamaguchi district court in southern Japan, which ordered the government to compensate three South Korean comfort women for their sufferings.

The seven lawsuits by comfort women involve South Korean, Filipino, Dutch and Chinese women, who were among the estimated 200,000 Asian women the Japanese imperial army forced into a network of sexual slaves for its troops.

Their testimony of how they were kidnapped and confined to barracks and then raped, some of them for years, has provided insight into some of Japan's worst war crimes.

So Friday's decision by the Tokyo district court dashed the victims' hopes for getting a formal recognition of the abuse in order for them to regain their dignity.

"The decision is a step back in the efforts of the comfort women to gain a public apology and compensation," explained lawyer Kenichi Takagi, who led a team of 19 lawyers for the Filipino plaintiffs.

Worse, the lawyers said, the ruling by the Tokyo District Court carries more weight than the April case heard outside Tokyo.

The focus of the Filipino lawsuit was whether an individual's right to seek compensation can be acknowledged according to international law and the Hague Convention, which stipulates reparation and other responsibilities of former occupying powers.

The judge dismissed the suit on the grounds that international law does not provide for individual claims for compensation against a former occupying country.

"Japan's decision on the comfort women is watched closely by the world because it is not only as a way of showing Japan's remorse for its war crimes but also because it affects abuse of women by the military during wars all over the world," explained Indai Lourdes Sajor of the Asian Centre for Women's Rights.

In the Philippine case, 18 women initially filed the suit in April 1993 and 28 others joined it six months later. They were seeking a combined compensation of 66.6 million dollars.

Seven of them died before the ruling, including Rosa Henson, who was 65 and one of the first Filipino women to reveal their painful past before the public.

Historians say 100,000 to 200,000 women were forced into sexual slavery from Asia, most of them from the Korean peninsula which was under Japanese rule. Some women were as young as 10 years old, according to the lawsuit filed by the Filipino women.

Japan has repeatedly expressed regret for wartime sexual slavery. Indeed, Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi last week became the latest in a long line of premiers to apologise for wartime abuses when he did that during the visit by South Korean President Kim Dae Jung.

Despite repeated public apologies however, the Japanese government has not been successful in closing the book on the still festering historical wound of the comfort women. This is due to a perception in the region that Japan is generous in word, but not in deed.

Tokyo set up a private fund called the Asian Women's Fund in 1995 to provide financial support to many comfort women who are sick, ageing and live in poverty.

But the fund has been bitterly criticised by many former comfort women, who point out that it is not a government fund and does not make for a sincere official apology by Japan.

"Many Asian sex slaves live alone because they have been finding it hard to pull their lives together after being traumatised by the experience. So it is natural that they take the money offered as financial support by Japan," explained Mizuho Fukushima, a lawyer for three former South Korean victims.

"But that does not amount to a sincere apology and mean the issue has been solved," Fukushima added.

Surveys conducted by grassroots organisations indicate that 90 percent of surviving comfort women are not married, live in poverty and suffer from physical and psychological diseases.

Tomasa never married after escaping from the brothel, scarred by her suffering. "I live alone and work as a seamstress. I get help from women's organisations," she said.

She has refused compensation from the Asian Women's Fund along with others from South Korea, who insist that a formal apology from Japan and official compensation are the only moves that will settle the issue.

The Japanese government says that the country atoned for its past when it paid South Korea and other Asian countries war repatriations and signed peace pacts with its former colonies.

But for the former comfort women, this latest defeat does not mean they will give up. In fact, the Filipino women say they will take their case to the High Court. Over the weekend, women leaders from North and South Korea and Japan held a three-day meeting on sex slaves of Japanese troops during World War II.


Origin: Manila/RIGHTS-JAPAN/

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