Comfort Women

Over 60 years have passed since Korea became independent from Japan in 1945. Unfortunately, some political tensions between Korea and Japan have yet to be resolved. These tensions occasionally come to the surface. Prominent examples are the conflicts over the naming of East Sea/Sea of Japan and the Japanese worship at the Yasukuni shrine. Behind these conflicts lie different versions of history. Most Japanese remember the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that devastated Japan and ended Japan’s “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere?project. On the other hand, most Koreans remember the horrific suffering of their ancestors during the Japanese occupation period (1910-1945). Tragic national events play a crucial role in the creation of each country’s history, while the other side’s sufferings are often dismissed, which breeds conflict. The suffering of the ‘comfort women’ is an important and unforgettable part of Korean history, but it is a small part of and is often missing from Japanese history. This in turn causes various conflicts between the two countries. 

‘Comfort women’ is a euphemism for the sexual slavery of Asian women by the Japanese military during World War II. According to Amnesty International, up to 200,000 women were enslaved and forced into organized rapes on Japanese military bases. The women were recruited by force, deceit (e.g., employment in a factory) or abduction. They were from many Asian countries such as China, East Timor, Korea, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Taiwan. Over 80% of the comfort women are believed to have been Korean. They were forced to serve 10 to 30 soldiers per day on average. When they refused, the women were beaten and even killed. After the end of the war, former comfort women felt too ashamed to speak out, and tried to hide their experience in the Japanese ‘comfort stations’ even from their own family. They kept their silence until a Korean survivor’s testimony in 1991. As of July 2006, only 225 have reported to the Korean government (more specifically, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family) that they were comfort women. Many have already died, or live in poor conditions while suffering from physical and psychological pain. The Japanese government has not yet made an official apology to the victims. 

Koreans feel burdened with the memory of the comfort women, whom they failed to protect due to their loss of sovereignty. This burden makes Koreans feel hesitant in their attempts at reconciliation with Japan. The feeling of guilt further incites Koreans’ fear of the revival of Japanese militarism. That is, the memories of the comfort women are entangled with present conflicts between Korea and Japan. Extra pressure put on Korean athletes during Korea-Japan sports matches, since a defeat by Japan reminds Koreans of the suffering endured under Japanese control. 

Resolving the issue of the comfort women is a necessary step toward peace in Northeast Asia. By paying reparation and compensation to the victims of the comfort women system, the Japanese government can show its willingness to defend peace and human rights. Japan is a country that led the effort to pass UN human rights resolutions concerning North Korea. If the Japanese government continues to ignore the ‘comfort women’ issue, which was a severe human rights violation, it will be tougher to gain support for its role in human rights improvement for the Asian continent. In addition, by making an official apology, the Japanese government can show its willingness to take responsibility for its past. Accepting responsibility for its history of imperialism will ease Asian countries’ concern about Japanese rearmament and its movements toward revising the Peace Constitution. Building trust with other Asians countries is important for the Japanese government, which hopes to become a leading party in the Northeast Asian region and a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Peace is a long process of building mutual understanding and mutual trust. If Japan wants to be seen by other Asian nations as a trusted partner in a peaceful Asia, it must prove its commitment to peace by taking responsibility for its history.

Message from the Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan

The issue of the comfort women occasionally comes to the surface and influences the relations between Japan and the affected Asian countries including Korea. Without resolving the conflict over this issue, the paths to peace will be difficult. To resolve this issue, I thought we should first listen to the voice of the victims of the ?omfort women?system. I interviewed the Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan (KCWDMSSJ). This is an organization, founded in 1990, that has put their best effort into educating the world about the experience of the ?omfort women.?Its primary goal is to have the Japanese government take responsibility for its past and promise to teach its students what Japan did so that the next generation of Japanese will not repeat such acts on other countries. 

Give justice to the ‘comfort women’ victims
July 31, 2007 (Korean time) was a historic day when the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed Resolution 121, calling on the Japanese government to officially apologize for its compulsory drafting of Asian women into Japanese military brothels. Resolutions on comfort women had been submitted to the U.S. Congress several times, but failed to be put to the plenary session due to the massive lobbying efforts of Japan and sensitive political situations. Thus, this passage of the resolution deeply touched us. Since then, the Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan has been frequently asked “Is the ‘comfort women’ issue resolved now because the resolution was passed?” Is it really the end? In short, the answer is no. Instead it is just the beginning. 

The government of Japan has denied its involvement in the systematic rape of hundreds of thousands of women during World War II, and has attempted to avoid its responsibility by making remarks such as that there was no ‘forced recruitment.’ However its vigorous lobbying could not block the passing of the resolution by its biggest ally, the U.S., and its avoidance of its past wrongdoing has been criticized by the international community. The adoption of the resolution in the U.S. inspired other countries to promote a resolution to stop Japan’s tenacious and persistent effort to evade its responsibility. To change the century wracked by memories of war into that of peace, the rest of the world is in broad agreement that Japan has to be responsible for its war crimes, which took the lives of countless people and violated human rights. Therefore, the resolution being passed in the U.S. will help spark international movements to resolve this issue until justice is established. In the present, there are brisk activities in Australia and Canada to promote a resolution calling for the Japanese government’s apology, and similar resolutions are in preparation in several European countries and the European Union (EU). 

It is not too much to say that the ‘comfort women’system is a terrible example of wartime violence against women either by size or system that has been devised and set at the national level. The ‘comfort women’ issue should be resolved in terms of human rights and peace before it is too late. Resolving the‘comfort women’ issue will present evidence for hope to those women who are suffering from wars across the world. The Japanese government must realize that the world is looking upon it with a hope for justice and peace. It should apologize in a clear and unequivocal manner for its role in coercing young women into sexual slavery, and compensate the victims. Such actions should be taken quickly while old victims are still alive. It should also promise not to repeat such human rights violations against women in wartime, to stop distorting history, and to educate the future generations of Japan about its war crimes. These efforts will help open the new century of peace in Asia. We hope more people will join in the movement to return justice and honor to the former ‘comfort women’ victims, who were brave enough to come out of silence and come forward.

For more info : KCWDMSSJ (

Full text of U.S. House Resolution 121 (Resolution on comfort women) H. Res. 121 In the House of Representatives, U. S., July 30. 2007
Whereas the Government of Japan, during its colonial and wartime occupation of Asia and the Pacific Islands from the 1930s through the duration of World War II, officially commissioned the acquisition of young women for the sole purpose of sexual servitude to its Imperial Armed Forces, who became known to the world as ianfu or ?omfort women? Whereas the ‘comfort women’ system of forced military prostitution by the Government of Japan, considered unprecedented in its cruelty and magnitude, included gang rape, forced abortions, humiliation, and sexual violence resulting in mutilation, death, or eventual suicide in one of the largest cases of human trafficking in the 20th century; Whereas some new textbooks used in Japanese schools seek to downplay the ‘comfort women’ tragedy and other Japanese war crimes during World War II; 

Whereas Japanese public and private officials have recently expressed a desire to dilute or rescind the 1993 statement by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono on the ‘comfort women’ which expressed the Government’s sincere apologies and remorse for their ordeal; Whereas the Government of Japan did sign the 1921 International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women and Children and supported the 2000 United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security which recognized the unique impact on women of armed conflict; 

Whereas the House of Representatives commends Japan’s efforts to promote human security, human rights, democratic values, and rule of law, as well as for being a supporter of Security Council Resolution 1325; 

Whereas the United States-Japan alliance is the cornerstone of United States security interests in Asia and the Pacific and is fundamental to regional stability and prosperity; 

Whereas, despite the changes in the post-cold war strategic landscape, the United States-Japan alliance continues to be based on shared vital interests and values in the Asia-Pacific region, including the preservation and promotion of political and economic freedoms, support for human rights and democratic institutions, and the securing of prosperity for the people of both countries and the international community; 

Whereas the House of Representatives commends those Japanese officials and private citizens whose hard work and compassion resulted in the establishment in 1995 of Japan? private Asian Women’s Fund; 

Whereas the Asian Women’s Fund has raised $5,700,000 to extend ‘atonement’ from the Japanese people to the comfort women; and Whereas the mandate of the Asian Women? Fund, a government-initiated and largely government-funded private foundation whose purpose was the carrying out of programs and projects with the aim of atonement for the maltreatment and suffering of the ?omfort women? came to an end on March 31, 2007, and the Fund has been disbanded as of that date: Now, therefore, be it 

Resolved, That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that the Government of Japan– 

(1) should formally acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner for its Imperial Armed Forces?coercion of young women into sexual slavery, known to the world as ?omfort women? during its colonial and wartime occupation of Asia and the Pacific Islands from the 1930s through the duration of World War II;
(2) would help to resolve recurring questions about the sincerity and status of prior statements if the Prime Minister of Japan were to make such an apology as a public statement in his official capacity;
(3) should clearly and publicly refute any claims that the sexual enslavement and trafficking of the ‘comfort women’ for the Japanese Imperial Armed Forces never occurred; and
(4) should educate current and future generations about this horrible crime while following the recommendations of the international community with respect to the ‘comfort women’




Source : Thomas – The U.S. Library of Congress (


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