* This is an edited version of an article that was published in Peace Studies Bulletin, no. 20(June 2001) by the Peace Studies Association of Japan.


                                                Critical Asian Studies 33:4 (2001 )

 The Japanese Movement to Protest Wartime Sexual Violence: A Survey of Japanese and International Literature


Hayashi Hirofumi

The twentieth century was an epoch of war and violence, with levels of destruction and genocide that were unprecedented. Above all, vast numbers of women were made victims of sexual violence in the course of and associated with war. Even now, sexual violence is taking place as wars rage between nations and internal armed conflicts continue throughout the world. In order to end the cycle of silence and impunity that accompanies wartime sexual violence against women, the Japanese military comfort women system must be confronted. The purpose of this article is to outline Japanese research on the subject of wartime sexual violence - the comfort women, in particular - and on associated popular movements founded to expose and criticize the treatment of the comfort women.

The term "comfort women" (jugun ianfu) has been severely criticized because it does not indicate the actual conditions the women had to suffer. In my view, the system of Japanese military comfort women was in fact sexual slavery. Nevertheless, in this article, I use the common historical term comfort women.


The Issue of Japanese Military Comfort Women

Until the 1980s, little attention was paid in Japan to the issue of Japan 's war responsibility or Japan 's aggression and the atrocities committed against Asian people. Though a large number of books have been published in Japan about the war, most have dealt with Japanese suffering, such as in Hiroshima and Nagasaki , and with the U.S. air raids against Japanese cities. But in the 1980s, many Japanese came to recognize the nature and extent of Japan 's wartime aggression. The history textbook dispute of 1982 had a considerable impact on Japan because fierce criticism of Japanese textbooks came from other Asian countries. The issues took on new urgency, moreover, because Japan had not only become a major economic power, but was trying to become an important military power as well. Of particular significance was the fact that many veterans, who until then had remained silent about their inhumane conduct, began to speak out both about their own wartime actions and against Japan 's new push for military strength. Thereafter, a large number of studies of war crimes such as the Nanjing Massacre and the activities of Biological Warfare Unit 73 1 were conducted; but the comfort women were still ignored.

 In August 199 1, however, Korean former comfort woman Kim Hak Sun broke nearly half a century of silence and made her story public. She was followed by several more women, not only in South Korea , but in several other Asian nations as well. Their bravery in stepping forward encouraged Japanese, especially women activists, to organize support groups. In South Korea , the Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan (hereafter the Korean Council) was set up in November 1990 and demanded that the Japanese government reveal the truth about the comfort women system, make a formal apology to the women, and pay reparations to the victims. With the support of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), lawyers, and researchers, the surviving victims began to file lawsuits against the Japanese government. The first of these was filed by Kim Hak Sun and other Koreans in December. 1991.

  The Japanese government denied any involvement by the military in the organization of the comfort women system and refused not only to apologize or provide reparations, but even to conduct an investigation of any kind. However, the government was unable to sustain this position, particularly when in January 1992 historian Yoshimi Yoshiaki unearthed official documents in the Defense Agency's National Institute of Defense Studies that proved conclusively that the military had played a role in the establishment and control of "comfort stations." As a result, Prime Minister Miyazawa Kiichi publicly admitted that the Japanese military was involved and he apologized over the comfort women issue for the first time.

  The issue then came into popular consciousness not only in Japan but also throughout Asia and the world. Research on the issue began and popular movements demanding a formal state apology and reparations to the victims appeared.


Investigation and Demands for Compensation

The Japanese government collected some materials relating to the comfort women and the results of surveys on this issue were announced in July 1992 and August 1993. In the second announcement, the government was forced to admit that the conscription and use of comfort women had been carried out forcibly.

  However, the government concluded its efforts with important materials left undisclosed and unexplored. Most importantly, it failed to admit that the Japanese government and military were the main actors in setting up and operating the comfort women system and that the comfort women system was a violation of international laws prohibiting war crimes and crimes against humanity. Further, the government still refused reparations for the victims on the grounds that Japan had earlier provided reparations to, or reached agreements with, the governments concerned.

  Against this background, a group of historians, legal experts, and others established the Center for Research and Documentation on Japan 's War Responsibility (JWRC) in April 1993 as the first nongovernmental organization dedicated to research on issues related to the war-related victimization of Asians by Japan . The JWRC immediately investigated documents relating to Japanese war crimes and, in particular, to the comfort women. Its first findings were announced in August 1993 and numerous important official documents were made public. The JWRC has published a quarterly journal, Senso Sekinin Kenkyu (Report on Japan 's War Responsibility), since September 1993 (number 32 appeared in June 2001). The information and documents revealed in this journal have greatly influenced the course of the movement.

  Various other organizations have also come into being to provide support to victims in their legal struggle against the Japanese government. Women are the main actors in these groups. In the Philippines , former comfort woman Maria Rosa Henson made public her story in September 1992 and filed a lawsuit against the Japanese government in April 1993.

  The comfort women issue was first raised at the UN Commission on Human Rights in February 1992. In August 1992, the first Asian Solidarity Conference, sponsored by the Korean Council, was held in Seoul . Representatives from South Korea , the Philippines , Taiwan , and Japan concluded that the comfort women were an example of how the patriarchal system, militarism, and war had come together to violate women and trample their human rights. Further, the conference determined that resolving this issue would be a crucial step toward preventing the recurrence of war crimes and building a peaceful world. Since this gathering, cooperation among organizations in the areas victimized and those in Japan has increased.

  Steps toward democracy in South Korea, the Philippines, and Taiwan, facilitated by the end of the cold war, have made it possible for groups in these and other nations to organize and to publicize the plight of the former comfort women. And as women have brought a gender-specific viewpoint to the issue, victims and their supporters in various countries have joined in solidarity to criticize nationalist attempts to conceal information about the comfort women.


Fruits of Research and Neonationalist Reaction

Historical research into the issue of the Japanese military comfort women has achieved remarkable results. First, it has demonstrated that the Japanese government and military were fully and systematically involved in planning, establishing, and operating the system of comfort women. The Japanese military set up so-called comfort stations in almost every area they occupied; local women from China and several Southeast Asian nations were forced to join those from Korea and Taiwan as sexual slaves of the military. Research has proved the sup-porting role of Japan 's Home Ministry, as well as that of prefectural governors and the police at all ranks, the Foreign Ministry, its consulates in occupied areas, and the governors-general of Korea and Taiwan , in making possible the trafficking of women to comfort stations throughout the empire.

  Second, research has shown that the military comfort women system was sexual slavery, organized and controlled by the military, and that it constituted sexual, racial, ethnic, and economic discrimination and the violation of the rights of@women. The racial or ethnic dimension is seen in the fact that the military protected Japanese women to a certain extent, while completely ignoring international law in the case of subjecting other@Asian women and girls to sexual slavery. Most of those recruited as comfort women were economically impoverished, with little education.

  Third, although one of the reasons given by the Japanese military for introducing the comfort women system was to prevent the rape of local women by soldiers, rape was not eliminated. In order to garner local support, soldiers in areas secured by the military, such as major occupied cities, were ordered not to molest women. But in contested or hostile areas - where the people were regarded as the enemy - the military encouraged soldiers to kill, loot, burn, and even rape. Thus, despite the comfort women system, rape was rampant.

  Fourth, it has been proven that the system of Japanese military comfort women violated numerous international laws including laws against enslavement and the transportation of minors across national boundaries. There is overwhelming evidence that the comfort women system constituted a war crime and a crime against humanity.

  Finally, the suffering of the women involved did not end with liberation. Many comfort women were unable to return home. Some still remain where they were abandoned, as illustrated by the case of Korean women still living in Wuhan , China . Further, former comfort women have suffered the aftereffects of disease, injury, psychological trauma, and posttraumatic stress disorder, as well as social discrimination for having been made comfort women.

  As former comfort women began to come out and tell their stories, it became clear that their suffering has not ceased. That suffering will continue until the Japanese government definitively acknowledges its responsibility, apologizes, pays compensation, and restores the honor of its victims . Among several proposals for

compensation and apology that have been put forward in response to the findings regarding the comfort women, I summarize here the one made by Professor Yoshimi, deputy director of the JWRC, based on a JWRC proposal of 1994. (1)

 EA11 official documents in government possession relating to military comfort women must be made public.

EAcknowledgment of and apologies for all violations of international law and war crimes committed by the Japanese government must be made.

EAcknowledgment of responsibility for not having punished those responsible for these acts must be made.

ERehabilitation of the victims must be carried out.

EVictims' dignity must be restored and individual compensation paid.

EThere is a need for educational programs about history and human rights; monuments to mourn the victims; a research center to establish the historical facts; memorial museums that preserve this history; and steps to be taken to prevent the repetition of these mistakes.

  As a result of the efforts of the JWRC and others, the Japanese public has begun to take note of the comfort women issue and many have come to accept Japan 's responsibility. The issue is now being taught to high school and junior high school students and more and more Japanese have come to understand that Japan pursued a war of aggression and was responsible for numerous atrocities, including the comfort women system.

   Neonationalists, however, began launching a systematic counterattack in the mid-1990s. Campaigns have been undertaken by Liberal Democratic Party MPs (Members of Parliament) , as well as members of other parties, scholars, journalists, veterans, religious organizations, and other neonationalists. They attack textbooks that deal with Japan 's various atrocities, including the comfort women system, demanding that such material be deleted in order to recover Japanese national pride. They also claim that Japan liberated Asia from the tyranny of Western colonialism, that the Nanjing Massacre was a fabrication, and that comfort women were protected and well treated, not exploited by the Japanese military and government authorities. Against a background of economic depression and a climate of prejudice against other Asians, Chinese and Koreans in particular, many Japanese have been influenced by these campaigns.

  Various victims of atrocities, including comfort women and those forced into slave labor, have filed lawsuits against the Japanese government (a total of fifty-eight cases had been filed by September of 2000) . However, the courts have dismissed almost all of these suits. Support groups are preparing parliamentary bills for individual compensation or for investigation of the historical facts. These have so far gained the support of more than 160 MPs, including some members of the Liberal Democratic Party. However, the majority of the 480 MPs in the House of Representatives still oppose or remain indifferent to such proposals.

  Recently, research on the comfort women issue has faced difficulties due to Japanese government efforts to prevent access to many documents. To make matters worse, some documents that were previously available have been closed on the pretext of protecting privacy.


International Movements against Wartime Sexual Violence

Since the comfort women issue first came before the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1992, it has been repeatedly taken up in spite of objections by the Japanese government, which claims that the UN has no jurisdiction over events that took place before the organization came into being. The Commission accepted a report by Special Rapporteur Rhadika Coomaraswamy in January 1996, which made six recommendations to the Japanese government. These included acknowledgement of legal responsibility, payment of compensation to individual victims, the making of a public apology, and the identification and punishment of perpetrators to the extent possible.

  The UN Sub-commission on Human Rights welcomed a final report by Special Rapporteur Gay J. McDougall in August 1998 : Systematic Rape, Sexual Slavery and Slavery-like Practices during Armed Conflict. The report's appendix is entitled "An Analysis of the Legal Liability of the Government of Japan for 'Com-fort Women Stations' Established during the Second World War. " One of the major aims of this report was to end the cycle of impunity for slavery, including sexual slavery, and for sexual violence, including rape. The report states, "One significant impetus for the Sub-commission's decision to commission this study was the increasing international recognition of the true scope and character of the harms perpetrated against the more than 200,000 women enslaved by the Japanese military in 'comfort stations' during the Second World War." And, in conclusion: "Sadly, this failure to address crimes of a sexual nature committed on a massive scale during the Second World War has added to the level of impunity with which similar crimes are committed today " Resolving the comfort women issue is an important item on the agenda of international movements against acts of sexual violence and slavery that continue to occur in contemporary armed conflicts.

  In addition to recommendations for individual compensation, the UN report recommended that responsible government and military personnel be prosecuted for their culpability in establishing and maintaining the rape centers. It also stressed the need for mechanisms to ensure criminal prosecution and pro-vide compensation.

  Thus, the comfort women issue can be regarded not only as one of war crimes and war responsibility, but also as one aspect of sexual violence and discrimination during war and peace in male-dominated societies. In other words, settling the comfort women issue is one essential move toward redressing sexual violence and deprivation of the rights of women in contemporary societies. The international solidarity achieved among women in victimized countries and Japan is an important step toward these goals.

  To take the case of South Korea , the comfort women issue was originally dealt with from the perspective of male-dominated nationalism, rather than from that of a woman's human rights. While blaming Japan for its atrocities, many Koreans ignored the suffering of the victims themselves. Indeed, the victims were regarded as a shameful disgrace. Thus the women involved were not only victimized by the Japanese during the war, they were doubly victimized because they suffered from social prejudice and discrimination in their own societies after the war. Supporters of the former comfort women have vehemently criticized such chauvinist responses. The Korean Council has recently been dealing not only with Japan 's behavior, but also with South Korean sexual violence against Vietnamese women during the Vietnam War and contemporary sexual violence against Korean women by U.S. soldiers stationed in South Korea . This broadening of the scope of comfort women issues is also taking place in Japan and other countries. It suggests an agenda for action that examines the actions of soldiers and the military in many other societies who have engaged in military actions and/or maintain military forces abroad.


 Women's International War Crimes Tribunal 2000

Despite pressure from various international movements and organizations, the Japanese government continues to deny legal responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed against women before and during World War II. It also refuses to pay individual compensation. Further, Japanese courts have repeatedly rejected claims filed by former comfort women from various countries. A majority in the National Diet still supports this policy.

   The Japanese government did establish the Asian Women's Fund in July 1995 "to protect women's human rights in Japan and around the world." According to the official description of the fund, it promotes "the desire to convey to these [comfort] women the sincere apologies and remorse of the Japanese people" through an "atonement" fund raised through direct donations from the Japanese public. Note that this "atonement" fund is not paid for by the government but by public subscription and that it offers not compensation but a form of charity. This approach demonstrates the Japanese government's refusal to accept legal responsibility even after tacitly acknowledging moral responsibility for atrocities committed against the comfort women. As a result, the fund has been condemned by most former comfort women and by their support groups around the world.

  In contrast to the German government, Japan has never prosecuted a single Japanese war criminal or any person responsible for military sexual slavery. Nor has it provided even one yen of government funds in individual reparations to victims. There are close parallels to the issues posed by the comfort women and the International War Crimes Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda , which are prosecuting sexual violence as a crime against humanity for the first time. The establishment of the International Criminal Court is also of great significance.

  After a 1997 international conference in Tokyo on violence against women in war and armed conflict situations, VAWW-NET Japan (Violence Against Women in War Network, Japan ) was organized in January 1998.(2)    VAWW-NET Japan pro-posed to other related organizations that a war crimes tribunal be held. An International Organizing Committee (IOC) was set up jointly by the Korean Council, the Asian Center for Women's Human Rights (ASCENT)- Philippines , and VAWW-NET Japan. The committee was eventually composed of representatives from North and South Korea , China , Taiwan , the Philippines , Indonesia , and Japan . Three other countries took part in the tribunal that took place in Tokyo in December 2000: the Netherlands , Malaysia , and East Timor .

  The objectives of the IOC in setting up the Women's International War Crimes Tribunal were as follows:

ETo collect from each country evidence highlighting the grave nature of the crimes committed against the comfort women and to clarify the consequent responsibility of the Japanese government and its military.

ETo carry out a rigorous analysis of the gender nature of the crimes and to establish a gender-sensitive approach to the issues of war crimes against humanity and genocide. 

ETo involve the international community in shedding light on the nature of the crimes committed against the comfort women of Asia and identify steps that the Japanese government should take.

ETo encourage an international movement in support of issues related to violence against women in war and armed conflict situations.

ETo end the impunity with which wartime sexual violence is carried out against women and to prevent such crimes from happening in the future.

  Although the tribunal would have no legal power to punish those found responsible for crimes, the hope was to clearly establish that the system of military sexual slavery implemented by the Japanese military and government constituted a war crime against women and a crime against humanity.

   According to the charter of the tribunal, it was to have jurisdiction over both individuals and states and it would identify those responsible for crimes with an emphasis on perpetrators in top military and government positions with command responsibility, including the Japanese emperor. In preparing for the tribunal, victims, legal experts, historians, and other participants from each country cooperated to prepare evidence and testimony. The five tribunal judges were selected from among internationally renowned experts in international law, including a former head of the International War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia , who was chosen to preside. The IOC planned to run the tribunal as closely as possible to the workings of an actual court. The Japanese government was asked to attend, but no reply was ever received.

  The tribunal ran from 8 to 12 December 2000, with the judgment delivered on the final day. More than one thousand people, including over sixty former comfort women from various countries, attended each day. Several hundred volunteers helped to run the tribunal. The tribunal found Emperor Hirohito guilty of responsibility for rape and sexual slavery, a crime against humanity, and determined that the government of Japan was responsible for establishing and maintaining the comfort women system. Verdicts on twenty other military and political leaders accused of crimes against humanity were to be presented in the final judgment in September 2001.

  For the first time the emperor has been found guilty of war crimes. Since the impunity from prosecution enjoyed by the emperor has led to impunity for the Japanese government and high-ranking government officials, this finding is highly significant, albeit as the judgment of a citizens' tribunal it lacks legal authority. In a sense, this is the culmination of ten years of work, as the tribunal made full use of the accumulated historical research and drew on the progress of the moment. Needless to say, the judgment was received with excitement by attendees, in particular the victims of sexual violence. Indeed, we may say that the tribunal goes some way toward meeting the demand for justice that victims have been seeking. Nevertheless, the issue cannot be finally settled until the Japanese government accepts full legal responsibility and acts accordingly. With many of the former comfort women in their seventies, eighties, and nineties, will the Japanese government act before it is too late?

  While many Japanese approved of the tribunal, it is significant that important segments of the mass media completely ignored or ridiculed it, and in contrast with the foreign media, few journalists even mentioned the question of the emperor's guilt. The issue of the emperor's culpability still appears to be taboo in Japan .



 * This is an edited version of an article that was published in Peace Studies Bulletin, no. 20(June 2001) by the Peace Studies Association of Japan.

 1. Yoshimi Yoshiaki, Comfort Women: Sexual Slavery in the Japanese Military during World War 11 ( New York : Columbia University Press, 2000), 207-208.

2 . VAWW-NET Japan : http ://www.jca.apc.or~vaww-net-japan/.



Asian Center for Women's Human Rights, From the Depths of Silence: Voice of Women Survivors of War ( Quezon City : Asian Center for Women's Human Rights, 2000) .

The Center for Research and Documentation on Japan 's War Responsibility. : http:// www.jca.apc.org/iwrc/center,/english/index-english.htm.

 Hayashi Hirofumi, 'Japanese Comfort Women in Southeast Asia, " Japan Forum 10, no. 2 (1998): 211-19.

Maria Rosa Henson, Comfort Woman: A Filipinafs Story of Prostitution and Slavery under the Japanese Military (Lanham, Md. : Rowman and Littlefield, 1999) .

International Commission of Jurists, Comfort Women: An Unfinished Ordeal Report of a Mission (Geneva: International Commission of Jurists, 1994) .

Indai Lourdes Sajor, Common Grounds: Violence against Women in War and Armed Conflict Situations (Quezon City: Asian Center for Women's Human Rights, 1998).

Gay J. McDougall, Systematic Rape, Sexual Slavery and Slavery-like Practices during Armed Conflict. Final report submitted in 1998 by Ms. Gay J. McDougall, Special Rapporteur to Commission on Human Rights, Sub-commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, E/CN.4/Sub.2 /1998/13.

Yoshimi Yoshiaki, Comfort Women: Sexual Slavery in the Japanese Military during World War 11 ( New York : Columbia University Press, 2000) .

Yoshimi Yoshiaki and Hayashi Hirofumi, eds., Nihongun Ianfu Japanese military comfort women) (Tokyo: Otsuki Shoten, 1995).