Campaign for justice for 'comfort women'

People in Australia are being urged to pressure the federal parliament to pass a resolution calling on the Japanese government to apologise and provide compensation to the "comfort women" of World War Two.

"Comfort women" were used by Japan's military forces for sexual slavery in Indonesia, the Philippines, Korea, China, East Timor and other countries occupied by Japan during WWII.

In August, The Friends of "Comfort Women" in Australia held public meetings attended by Jan Ruff O'Herne and Gil Won Ok, two women who had been forced to serve Japanese soldiers. Professor Cho Sihyun from Kon Kuk University in South Korea and Professor Michiko Nakahara from Waseda University in Japan toured with them.

Cho chairs the Legal Advisory Committee of the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan. The council works with former "comfort women" in advocacy and legal casework. It has organised rallies in Seoul every Wednesday since 1992 and runs an education centre to raise awareness about the issue. It also operates a home for former comfort women.

O'Herne, who is now based in Australia, was taken at 14 years of age from a Dutch internment camp in Java during the Japanese occupation. She likened the treatment of comfort women to the use of rape as a weapon of war.

At an August 14 public meeting, O'Herne said: "It is so important that our stories be told; our stories are part of World War II history." She explained the lasting physical and mental effects of her years of sexual slavery and said that she wanted an apology from the Japanese government before she died.

Gil Won Ok, now 81 years old, was born in Pyongyang, now in North Korea. At 13 years old she was taken, supposedly to work in a factory. Instead, she was sent to a brothel in China with other young women.

At the end of the war, the women were abandoned by the Japanese military and caught a ship back to Korea. They arrived amidst euphoric celebrations of the end of the war, but instead of joy, the women suffered humiliation and shame because they had served Japanese men.

Cho explained that nine lawsuits have been brought against the Japanese government on this issue, but eight were rejected by Japan's Supreme Court. These legal obstacles were part of the motivation behind the Tokyo Women's Tribunal held in December 2000, a meeting organised by Asian women and human rights organisations.

According to Cho, during Japan's review by the United Nations Human Rights Council in May, and despite council members urging Japan to respond to the issue of military sexual slavery, the Japanese government refused to acknowledge it as a war crime.

A resolution passed by the United States Congress in 2007 calls on the Japanese government to make an official apology, take legal responsibility and ensure the "correct teaching of history" to break the silence about military sexual slavery. The parliaments of Canada, the Netherlands and the European Union have all passed similar resolutions.

For more information about the campaign in Australia, contact The Friends of "Comfort Women" in Australia, PO Box 54, Strathfield NSW 2135.