Date: Fri, 16 Oct 98 11:24:06 CDT
From: email@example.com (Rich Winkel)
Subject: RIGHTS-JAPAN: 'Comfort Women' Battle On Despite Legal Blow
/** 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
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
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
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.
[c] 1998, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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