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Date: Tue, 29 Dec 1998 21:35:27 -0600 (CST)
From: rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: JAPAN: In Two Years, A Tribunal on Violence Against Women
Article: 51040
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.6858.19981230121540@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

/** headlines: 128.0 **/
** Topic: JAPAN: In Two Years, A Tribunal on Violence Against Women **
** Written 6:52 PM Dec 28, 1998 by mmason in cdp:headlines **
/* Written 9:16 PM Dec 21, 1998 by newsdesk@igc.org in ips.english */
/* ---------- "WOMEN-JAPAN: In Two Years, A Tribun" ---------- */

In Two Years, A Tribunal on Violence Against Women

By Suvendrini Kakuchi, IPS
17 December 1998

TOKYO, Dec 17 (IPS) - Women's groups across Asia have set December 2000 as the launch date for what will be the first war crime tribunal focusing on violence against women during armed conflicts.

The Women's International War Crime Tribunal is actually a response to the cry for justice made by thousands of women forced to be sex slaves of Japanese soldiers during World War II. But women's rights activists say it will also address other conflicts during which women faced systematic rape, sexual slavery and other violence.

"The tribunal is one of the most important initiatives in the struggle for justice for women whose suffering has gon e and continue to go unnoticed by the world," says Yayoi Matsui, of the Japanese chapter of the umbrella group Violence Against Women in War Network (VAWW), which comprises women's organisations from around the world.

She adds that while the tribunal will really be a formal legal proceeding, non-government organisations will nonethele ss be presenting evidence that will support the points of view of women who have been abused but have been denied the opportunity to have governments acknowledge what happened to them, much less get justice.

Foremost among these cases are those of the so-called "comfort women" forced to provide sex to the Japanese troops w ho had invaded and occupied their countries in World War II.

Research by various scholars indicates that Korean and Chinese women made up the bulk of the comfort women, although m any Filipino, Indonesian, Thai and even Dutch women also became the sex slaves of the Japanese soldiers.

Some were even merely girls at the time, with recorded cases of 11-year-olds among the soldiers' sex slaves.

For several years, the Japanese government denied the existence of "comfort stations" set up by the now defunct Japa nese Imperial Army all over Asia to service soldiers.

But following research by Japanese scholars that proved their existence as well as the growing international uproar regarding the plight of the comfort women, Tokyo decided to set up an Asian Women's Fund to provide medicine and social welfare and financial help to the ex-comfort women.

The Fund, however, is privately financed. Many of the comfort women, now in their late 60s and 70s, have said they wan t compensation to come from the Japanese government itself, as well as an official apology for what they had to go through.

Several lawsuits seeking precisely these have been filed against the Japanese government, but so far none have brought satisfactory results.

According to Matsui, several court proceedings have been held in the past "to judge Japan's acts in Asia" but none o f them -- not even the most famous Tokyo Tribunal that held more than 400 hearings -- really focused on the violence that had been done on the women.

In contrast, the tribunal will not only address the issue of the comfort women, but also many instances of the violenc e women have had to go through in other armed conflicts across postwar Asia.

Among these, say women's groups, are the rape some 200,000 women during the war for independence in Bangladesh in the 1970s and rape used as a means of torture in the hands of the military government during the internal conflict in Burma in the 1980s.

Activists also hope the tribunal will tackle the rape and sexual enslavement of women in East Timor under Indonesian c olonial rule and rape committed by the security troops during the India-Kashmir war conflict in 1990s.

Australian legal consultant Ustina Dolgopol, who co-authored the UN report 'Comfort Women: The Unfinished Ordeal', say s the many legal disadvantages faced by women are rooted in discrimination and are inherent in the societal structure. "The tribunal aims to change this attitude," she says. "By holding the tribunal, the Japanese people can say we do value women within Japan and elsewhere in the region, believe in the equality of women and want new laws based on the perspective of women's rights."

Women's groups are now collecting evidence across Asia for presentation at the tribunal -- an awesome task, consideri ng much of crucial evidence in many of the cases have either been destroyed or are still being hidden. Activists say this is especially true of the "comfort women" cases.

Lawyers and researchers working with Matsui say Asian comfort women will testify for the first time against ex-militar y police, top ex military men who were involved in the system.

Says Taiwanese lawyer Wang Ching Feng: "It is a civil case and will be a landmark not only the comfort women but also in the now increasing consciousness of people's power that hopes to change the world for the better."

Lawyer Apong Herlina, who is working with Indonesian comfort women, expresses firm support for the tribunal. "Former comfort women in Indonesia have kept their suffering silent for more than five decades," she says. "There is a lot of expectation for the tribunal because it brings them justice and restores their dignity."

Comments Apong: "The tribunal is important because it sets a precedent for achieving justice even today when ethnic C hinese women are struggling regain their dignity after being raped by Indonesian soldiers."

Meanwhile, Chinese historian Chen Lifei of the Huadong Educational College Press says Chinese scholars have started to collect evidence after years of suppression of pertinent data.

Their research so far indicates that there were at least 77 comfort stations in Shanghai and that some 200,000 Chinese women were "conscripted& into the service.

Lawyer Wang, for her part, says there are currently 45 women in Taiwan who have revealed their stories as comfort women. Some researchers though say at least 1,200 women from the island were forced to become sex slaves of the Japanese soldiers between 1938 and 1945.

(END/IPS/ap-pr/sk/cb/98) 2170753 MNL002 2170616 ORP022

Origin: Manila/WOMEN-JAPAN/

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