UN says Japan backpedalling on sex slavery

A statue of a teenage girl symbolising former "comfort women" who served as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War II.
A statue of a teenage girl symbolising former "comfort women" who served as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War II. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The United Nations has downgraded its assessment on Japan's efforts to resolve the issue of wartime sex slavery, citing its failure to provide recognition of responsibility, a public apology and full reparations, documents showed Wednesday (July 26).

The UN Human Rights Committee released a report monitoring Tokyo's implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights for its regular session, scheduled for July 3-28 in Geneva, Switzerland.

The panel, which consists of 18 independent international experts, has been taking and evaluating two batches of Japan's replies since it offered its concluding observations in July 2014.

The paper criticised the country's denial of the forcible nature of its sexual enslavement of Korean women during World War II, though it entailed the state's "direct legal responsibility" while carrying concerns over the "revictimisation" of former the euphemistically labelled comfort women by some public officials.

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It called for Tokyo to conduct an "effective, independent and impartial" investigation and prosecute and punish perpetrators; officially recognize its responsibility; provide a public apology and "full reparation" to victims and their families; and educate students on the matter through textbooks.

In its latest assessment, the committee rated Tokyo's follow-up efforts as B and C, depending on the specific areas of action, down from the B2 given at the last round in May last year.

The B class largely means initial action was taken but additional information and measures are required, while C represents that the state's action or reply is unsatisfactory as it is not relevant nor in line with the recommendation.

The panel marked as B the Shinzo Abe administration's contribution of 1 billion yen (S$12.2 million) to a fund for comfort women under a December 2015 settlement with Seoul, while requesting further information to determine whether it would lead to full reparations.

Aside from the donation, it gave a C to all other elements, saying Japan failed to report any progress in investigations, offender punishment, evidence disclosure and public education.

"The committee regrets the lack of information on measures taken to specifically condemn, officially and publically, attempts to defame former comfort women. It also regrets the state party's statement that it is not considering prosecuting and punishing perpetrators," the paper reads.

"The committee requires additional information on any further measures taken to implement its recommendations, including on condemnation of attempts to defame victims or to deny the events, and education of students and the general public about the issue of comfort women including through references in textbooks."

The document is poised to intensify pressure on Tokyo, as the Moon Jae In government seeks to make changes to the 2015 agreement rejected by many of the victims as well as Koreans in general.

The paper also noted that based on information from the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Slavery by Japan, which advocates for the victims, Mr Moon has a pledged to annul the settlement and return the money, due to "unfulfilled legal responsibility by the Japanese government including official apology, reparations, fact-finding investigation and ceasing of history distortion."

Last May, the UN Committee Against Torture recommended the deal be revised in order to provide the survivors with redress, including the right to compensation and rehabilitation as well as the right to truth, reparations and assurances of nonrepetition.