NEW YORK, July 23, 2010—The Philippines government should support renewed efforts by former sexual slaves to seek reparations and an official apology from Japan , said the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) today.
Before and during World War II, the Japanese military government forced an estimated 200,000 women from many Asian countries, known as “comfort women,” to provide Japanese soldiers with sexual services. In April 2010 the Philippine Supreme Court dismissed a case by a group of Filipina comfort women aiming to compel the Philippine government to seek reparations from Japan on their behalf. On July 19 these women asked the Philippine Supreme Court to reconsider.
ICTJ calls on the Philippines government to support the women’s efforts and on President Aquino to show leadership on this issue.
“The remaining survivors of Japan ’s system of sexual slavery in World War II do not need pity or charity. They need justice,” said ICTJ president, David Tolbert . “The struggle of President Aquino’s parents against impunity is well known. Their son should follow in their footsteps and support these aging comfort women in their long struggle for justice,” said Tolbert.
“The comfort women’s arguments are well supported under international law,” said Helen Scanlon , director of ICTJ’s Gender Justice Program. “The Philippines has an opportunity to set an example. It can show how a state can fulfill its duty and seek to provide effective remedies for citizens whose human rights have been violated—in this case, women singled out and subjected to the crime of wartime sexual slavery. We strongly encourage the court to revisit its April 2010 ruling on this issue,” said Scanlon.
Accountability for the Comfort Women System
While some war crimes prosecutions for crimes committed during World War II took place at the post-war Tokyo Trials in the late 1940s, the trials did not bring accountability for the comfort women system. In 1993 a statement by the Japanese Prime Minister’s office expressed regret for what happened to the women, but it did not go as far as to give an official apology or provide reparations. Comfort women have endured the long-term effects of their sexual slavery through physical injuries, mental and emotional suffering, damage to their reproductive capacity and harm to social relationships.
In 1995 Japan established the Asian Women’s Fund (AWF) to provide financial, medical and welfare assistance to surviving former comfort women. But the AWF was financed through so-called “atonement” funds from private sources, including Japanese corporations and private individuals, but excluding government funds. Many comfort women rejected the AWF because they saw it as a way for Japan to evade state responsibility.
A group of some sixty Filipina former comfort women, called the Malaya Lolas (Free Grandmothers), first sought to compel the Philippines government to support their request for reparations and an apology in 2004. The case was dismissed by the Supreme Court on April 28, 2010. The group filed a motion asking the court to reconsider on July 19.
Victims Have a Right to Reparations
There are long-standing legal and moral principles that support compensation, giving acknowledgement, offering apologies, establishing memorials and delivering needed material and physical support to victims of such crimes.
Based on these principles, Germany provided reparations and official apologies to victims of the Nazi regime¾including victims of sexual and gender-based violence¾and the United States also compensated and apologized to Japanese-Americans it forced into internment camps during World War II.
Rights to reparation are clearly established under international law and are summarized in the 2005 United Nations General Assembly Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparations for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law.
The right to remedy is not discretionary. All states are bound to provide an effective remedy for victims of torture and slavery. In the case of the comfort women, their age makes reparations an even more urgent need that should be provided ahead of all other forms of accountability.
The right to remedy should not be confused with the duty to extend diplomatic protection to citizens’ abroad, and is not dependent on whether prosecutions take place.
(See also Japanese Government Should Give Apology and Compensation To WWII Comfort Women)
The International Center for Transitional Justice works to redress and prevent the most severe violations of human rights by confronting legacies of mass abuse. ICTJ seeks holistic solutions to promote accountability and create just and peaceful societies. For more information, visit http://www.ictj.org.
Helen Scanlon ( Cape Town GMT +2)
Director, Gender Justice Program
Tel +27 21 448 6464/6255/6620
Lisa Jamhoury ( New York GMT -4)
Tel +1 917 637 3846
Cell +1 917 975 2305