Change in the Government of Japan
Throughout the past, during occasions such as the process of negotiation for the conclusion of the Japan-ROK Basic Treaty, Japan never offered a sincere apology but rather often held a blatantly favorable view of its past. At best, Japan merely expressed "reflection" and "regret." Apparently, these attitudes reflected an unwillingness of the Japanese government to admit to its own past injustices.
The first official apology made by the Japanese government was in a parliamentary statement by then-Minister of Foreign Affairs Taro Nakayama on April 18, 1990. Nakayama made the statement to the Standing Committee of Foreign Affairs in the House of Representatives in response to a question concerning the problem of Koreans in Sakhalin. At that time, a Social Democratic MP, Kozo Igarashi, raised questions about Koreans left in Sakhalin and South Korean A-bomb victims, pointing out the absolute need for a formal apology from Japan with stress on the importance of dealing with the "emotional nature of the problems" between Japan and South Korea. As a result, Foreign Minister Nakayama made an official apology with the unprecedentedly straightforward expression, "Japan is deeply sorry for the tragedy in which these (Korean) people were moved to Sakhalin not of their own free will but by the design of the Japanese government and had to remain there after the conclusion of the war." This was the first step in the shift of the government's attitude from "regret" to "apology" for its past aggressions during its colonial rule.
About a month later, during the visit of President Roh Tae-woo, the Japanese Emperor stated, "I cannot but feel remorse when I think about the suffering your people went through during that disastrous period brought about by Japan." Although not a clear "apology," this statement admitted the wrongness of damages caused by Japan's aggression against its past colonies.
In this respect, a comment by Prime Minister Kaifu during a submit meeting of Japan and South Korea was more straightforward:
"I would like to take the opportunity here to humbly reflect upon how the people of the Korean Peninsula went through unbearable pain and sorrow as a result of our country's actions during a certain period in the past and to express that we are sorry. With this in mind, I will try faithfully to resolve the problems of third-generation Koreans in Japan, A-bomb victims in South Korea, and Koreans in Sakhalin." This forthright apology by Prime Minister Kaifu left the impression that a new generation of leaders distinctly distant from the old ruling class in its views was coming into power. In line with these changes the Japanese government started to show a passive but visible change in dealing with the issue of military comfort women.
Up until June 1990, the government of Japan took the position of claiming, "These women were brought there by private agents and the military had nothing to do with that." However, it later changed its stance, first saying, "Without documents, we cannot tell" in 1991, and then, "(Japan) admits a certain involvement of the military" in January 1992 after the aforementioned court case filed by the Association of Bereaved of the Pacific War Victims, as well as the discovery of ianfu-related Army documents by Professor Yoshiaki Yoshimi. This led then-Prime Minister Miyazawa to express an apology to the people of South Korea during his visit there. In a press conference after his talks with President Roh Tae-woo, he commented, "With sincerest and deepest remorse, I express my apologies and regret (to former military women.) However, on the question of compensation, I would like to look to the development of ongoing lawsuits in Japan. I will do my utmost to bring the fact to light." The statement in itself was a great step forward. Yet, the expression was still inadeqate as an apology based on a full recognition of historical reality. For the word "involvement" does not appropriately reflect the true history in that the passive connotation of it suggests that private agents created and operated the ianfu system, with the military's involvement limited to providing facilities and the like.
Important in this sense, the next point of contention concerning the ianfu issue became whether the women had been "forcibly moved" or not. For, if so, the extent of the damage was more severe and the legal responsibility of the state must be directly questioned. Actually, the South Korean government drew up such a report. However, more serious than "forced relocation" is the question of "forced prostitution" because many of the victims were deliberately mislead to believe that they would be working in factories and hospitals. The women were deceived because it was then often the case that they would never agree to come knowing the real purpose; when they were forcibly relocated, they would often try to escape or kill themselves along the way.
Of course, forced relocation in its true sense was not at all rare: it was carried out through the cooperation of the military, the police and the Governor-General's Office of Korea when a more sophisticated methods failed or there was an urgent demand from the military. Among the nine plaintiffs of the Pacific War Victims' Association, five were recruited through deceit and four were essentially arrested by the military or police. Either way, once detained, they --unaware of what would next happen -- were transported by the military to China and Southeast Asia, where, more importantly than forced relocation, they were imprisoned in brothels and forced into prostitution under the surveillance of the military.
What was called for was a bringing to light of the whole process of policymaking and execution of the military comfort women program by the military and government of Japan. In this respect, there was another change in the government, which in 1993 expressed its intention to conduct previously-rejected direct hearings for the former military comfort women in South Korea who had come forward and made their identities known, and as a result indicated that it would admit that forcible relocation had taken place. While available official documents --including those found in the Self Defense Agency-- are insufficient to prove "coercion," direct hearings for victims would bring out clear evidence of "coercion." This development should be seen as a result of successful pressure of public opinion inside and outside Japan.
2. Current Stage of the Issue of Postwar Compensation
The summer of 1993 was quite significant for progress on the issue of postwar compensation. Under the Miyazawa Cabinet in late July, authorities concerned with the issue of the military comfort women, such as the Cabinet Deliberative Office for Foreign Administration and the Northeast Asian Section in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, sent a joint mission to South Korea to collect testimonies from former ianfu while in the presence of lawyers representing them in the aforementioned court case. Based on the results of these hearings, which continued for several days, the cabinet released a second report, "About the Ianfu Issue" on August 4th, followed by a comment from Chief-Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono.
In the report, the Japanese government for the first time admitted that Japan had forcibly relocated the former military comfort women and had coerced them into prostitution, and that these actions had caused unlimited pain as well as permanent physical and emotional scars. The government also expressed its "apology and reflection" and promised serious consideration of "how such feelings of the state should be expressed." The statement seemed to be one step up from the previous position of the Japanese government (admitting only to "involvement" and offering "alternative measures to compensation on a humanitarian basis"), now admitting to "coercion" into sexual slavery --a war crime-- and promising compensation as a fulfillment of legal responsibility for the crime. To admit its crimes against and responsibility to individual victims, and to express an "apology and reflection," should be the way to realize "compensation." Nevertheless, the media has continued to use the expression, "alternative measures to compensation." It should be pointed out that "alternative measures to compensation" is NOT compensation and is therefore insufficient for the purpose of expressing an "apology."
"I sincerely express my feelings of condolence to all the war victims and their families in neighboring Asian countries as well as to the whole world," said Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa at the ceremony of the National Memorial for War Dead on August 15th. This statement, together with the condolences given by Takako Doi, Chairwoman of the House of Representatives, "We have not forged reconciliation with those Asians upon whom we imposed horrible sacrifices through our mistakes," was viewed as a declaration that the Japanese government would make a genuine effort with clear focus on the plight of the Asian war victims.
Also, Prime Minister Hosokawa, in his policy announcement in the Parliament on August 23th stated, "Once again, I express my feelings of sorrow and will reflect profoundly on our country's aggression and colonial rule that caused unbearable pain and suffering for many people." The statement seems to have been significant as the first step in the government's efforts to resolve the issue of postwar compensation, as it admitted that Japan's aggression toward other peoples was a war crime, and subsequently offered an apology .
Certainly, Asians, listening to these statements of the Japanese Prime Minister, must have felt, for the first time, some sincerity in Japan's attitudes toward them.
However, growing expectations were soon dampened in the course of an event that followed. For the Japanese government, when asked about compensation, the material component of the apology, continued to repeat the mantra "Everything has been already resolved through the postwar settlement treaties" and again avoided dealing with the issue of postwar compensation.
Around that time, I thought there were two problems to consider: the right to claim private compensation, and the treaties for postwar settlement. As discussed before, when a war crime in violation of international law occurs, an obligation emerges for the aggressor state to make reparation (compensation) for the damages to the victims of the crime. The aforementioned statements of Chief Secretary of the Cabinet Kono and Prime Minister Hosokawa, which acknowledged Japan's "war of aggression" and "acts of aggression," are tacit admissions that the government had committed war crimes in violation of the international law.
The point is whether those private compensation claims arising from Japan's war crimes would have been nullified by the San Francisco Peace Treaty and other separate treaties with Asian countries, including the Japan-ROK Basic Treaty and Japan-Philippines Treaty. However, the official interpretation by the Japanese government has been that interstate treaties can waive the rights of the state itself and rights of diplomatic protection of its citizens, a view clearly confirmed in a speech given by Treaty Bureau Chief Yanai in the House of Representative Standing Committee on the Budget on August 27, 1991.
Thus it is important to reconfirm that private compensation claims were annulled by intergovernment treaties.
On June 30, 1994, the SDP, LDP and Sakigake Parties formed a new coalition government. The Murayama Cabinet, headed by the SDP leader, has created previously unimaginable political situations, but is, for those seeking the realization of postwar compensation, a rather unexpected opportunity.
Shortly before assuming the prime minister's post, Tomiichi Murayama gave a speech at a citizen's assembly on June 6, 1994 (attended by 700 people) demanding the realization of postwar compensation, where he publicly promised, "With stronger solidarity with you, the SDP shall lead the movement for a realization of postwar compensation both in and outside Japan." Also, Chief Cabinet Secretary Kozo Igarashi , as Chief Secretary of the Roundtable Committee of MPs on the issue of Koreans left in Sakhalin, has been working with citizens group for years to help realize compensation to, for example, the first-generation Koreans in Sakhalin. He attended the 8/15 Memorial Service in 1993, despite his position then as the Minister of Construction, with the greeting, "(Concerning concrete measures to express our apologies, and reflect on our wrongdoings and) based on existing movements, I will endeavor for their realization within the Hosokawa Cabinet. If we are to gain broad confidence from the international community, we must earnestly resolve this problem as a premise before anything else" ("For A Realization of Postwar Compensation," published by Nashinokisha).
Similarly, Minister of Foreign Affairs Yohei Kono , as Chief Cabinet Secretary of the Miyazawa Cabinet, on August 4, 1993 presented what is so far the most sincere and compassionate government view on the issue of military comfort women:
"The government wishes to take this occasion to deeply reflect upon the past and offer its apology to each of those individuals known as former military comfort women, regardless of their origin, for having caused unlimited pain as well as permanent physical and emotional scars. As to how the state should express its feelings on this matter, I believe we should continue serious consideration through consultation with experts."
Still, the coalition cabinet has other members helpful to the postwar compensation issue in several key cabinet positions: the Director General of the Prime Minister's Office, Tsuruo Yamaguchi is the chairman of the SPD Special Committee on Postwar Compensation; Minister of Finance Yasuo Takemura is the leader of the Sakigake Party, which has been intent upon redressing Japan's past history; and Minister of Health and Welfare Seiichi Ide, fellow party member.
What is likely to present tremendous obstacles is a resistant bureaucracy, especially the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which insists on the importance of consistency in administration and diplomacy. However, America would not hesitate to admit that its current conditions are imperfect, even as it aims at achieving the ideal. Having the grace to admit and rectify one's own mistakes is, I believe, an important element of a democracy.
Another conceivable obstacle is the refusal of material compensation, repeatedly emphasized by South Korean President Kim Yong-sam. However, his statements address only the matter of interstate affairs.
Today, Japan is facing its last chance to redress past injustices. If it misses this opportunity, Japan will never have another chance to establish itself as a moral state.
Once we can confirm that war crimes are in violation of international law and that it is the legal responsibility of Japan, as the aggressor, to make compensation to these victims, what should be done to fulfill the responsibility will naturally become clear.
Fifty years after the war, it is difficult to identify these victims. The truth has yet to be found. I would suggest forming an investigative committee in both the Cabinet and the Diet to facilitate the discovery of the truth and a process to establish a shared historical notion with our Asian neighbors.
Meanwhile, what can be done immediately is to set up a public-private institution in Japan to provide a compensation fund for Asia. The government should realize that its current scheme of setting up an "Asian Association Center" stands remotely from any real expression of "apology and reflection."
3. International Developments Concerning Postwar Compensation
The revelation of the existence of ianfu --an unprecedented invention not limited to Japanese persecution of Asian people but also a violation of the sexual freedom of women in the form of state sponsored sexual slavery -- caused an international sensation beyond any domestic problem. In South Korea, many women's organizations banded together to form the Council on the Problem of Teishintai (co-represented by Yun Jong-ok and I Ho-je). In Japan, many citizen's groups have been organized to deal with the problem. In the Philippines, a task force investigating sexual slavery by the Japanese military was formed. In Taiwan and North Korea, semi-governmental investigative organizations have been established.
Through the activities of these local organizations, many former ianfu have been identified in each country --161 in South Korea, 131 in North Korea, about 50 in Taiwan, and about 150 in the Philippines. In addition, dozens of Chinese, eight Indonesians, and two Malaysians have individually stepped forward. As well, the identification of several Dutch former military comfort women expanded the issue from Asia to the West. In the US, there are active organized movements mainly by South Koreans in major cities including Washington and New York. Partly because of this, the issue of postwar compensation has been put on the agenda in peace negotiations between Japan and North Korea, and has become an important diplomatic issue between Japan and South Korea.
The international community also has shown strong concerns over the matter. The Department of Modern Slavery Systems, part of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, began discussing the issue in 1992, and made it an ongoing point of concern, with an individual assigned to report those issues to those officials in the UN who are involved in the matter. The International Hearing that took place in Tokyo in December 1992 provided an opportunity for the UN to directly interview victims. The hearing was also meaningful in that there was a chance for direct exchange between international and domestic arguments. Although arguments from the two sides were not necessarily always in concert, what was significant was that the hitherto domestic arguments for postwar compensation based on international laws regarding human rights would now be fully supported by the international community. In April 1993, the issue was discussed in the UN Modern Slavery System Department and became an important agenda item in the Commission on Human Rights held in Vienna in August, when a report from Special Reporter Van Bovin was submitted to the Human Rights Commission. The discussions have received international recognition as a leading voice of opinion, which have subsequently put tremendous pressure on the Japanese government.
4. Future Tasks
All in all, Japan's future tasks can be summarized as follows:
First, there is still much to be done to discover the truth and understand the whole picture of ianfu ; we must recognize that the investigation has only just begun.
For spoken testimony, it is necessary to extend the hearings for victims from South Korea to North Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia and Holland, as well as to start collecting testimonies from those who were involved in the issue as part of the Japanese military. These hearings should not be concerned solely with finding facts but also with psychological issues, such as consolation and a restoration of the dignity of these women. To this end, the Japanese government should try to let as many victims as possible directly know its sincerity.
What documents that have been found so far are limited to part of those documents kept at the Self Defense Agency of Japan, and many concerning the law and police authorities have been largely kept secret. Documents held by the US and Allied Forces also need to be fully investigated. Also indispensable is the collection of testimonies from people on the side of the aggressor -- former Japanese soldiers, gunzoku, military surgeons and nurses.
Along with efforts to find out past information, it is necessary to hold public hearings at the Diet to hear the testimony of victims and those concerned before the general public in order to reveal the truth and establish a common historical notion among the population. As seen in Germany and America, public hearings in congress play an important role in establishing a clear recognition of issues within society. For such revelations, creating an investigative committee based in both the government and private sectors should be considered.
Second, as serious suffering was not limited to military comfort women, it is equally important to reveal the truth about the young in colonized territories who were relocated against their will to serve as soldiers or gunzoku under a system of virtual slavery and then abused, tortured and killed. As well, the story of the tens of millions of people in China and other regions of Asian who suffered looting, rape, torture and murder at the hands of an aggressive Japanese military must be told. It should be borne in mind that the belief that dealing with the issue of ianfu alone is sufficient is obviously lacking balance.
Third, for crimes uncovered through the aforementioned process of clarifying the past crimes committed by our state and society, we should establish that these were "war crimes," begin criminal proceedings for any prosecutable cases and carry out postwar compensation as our duty to restore the original conditions. The essence of such an effort is to realize monetary compensation, among other means, to restore the status quo in both material and human terms. Also, in order to restore the dignity of those victims who were humiliated and abused, an earnest apology should be made directly to these individuals as well as in the Diet. For it is the making of efforts to carry out postwar responsibility that will lead to the creation of a society which will never commit the same crimes and will respect its ethics.
Also, it should be clearly recognized that the wishes of the victims should be given the greatest respect during the process of carrying out postwar responsibility.
Finally, these convictions should be continuously reaffirmed so as to be passed on to future generations. We should conserve structures such as the tunnels built by relocated laborers or the houses of ianfu during the war; erect memorial buildings to house and exhibit historical documents in Japan and overseas; and rightly incorporate these facts into our history. In this context, the current plan by the Ministry of Health and Welfare to construct the Heiwakinenkan (Peace Memorial) in Kudan, near Yasukuni Shrine, for three million Japanese victims of war (at a cost of more than 10 billion yen) is a denial of the reality of the history and the gravity of Japan's postwar responsibility and should be viewed as retrogressive.
Fulfillment of all these proposals is by no means impossible, depending on future developments in the various movements and the response of the government. If we seriously consider our relations with the rest of Asia and wish to realize the true internationalization of Japan, these proposals naturally arise from the only conclusions possible.
To this end, we must continue to strive for a change in society and the government of Japan, through stronger ties between and communication among the various domestic citizens groups, each of which has established international connections in Asia.
Currently, Japan is facing an overall transformation in politics and society. During the change, dealing with the issue of postwar compensation should be given the utmost priority from all parts of Japanese society. To do so, it is urgently required that we build up efforts in both the social and political fields.
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