UN panel questions Japan on 'comfort women'

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Geneva, July 17: The UN Human Rights Committee Wednesday raised its concerns and questions on the issue of "comfort women" during its consideration of the sixth periodic report of Japan on its implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

The two-day consideration of Japan's implementation of this vital human rights covenant was concluded Wednesday afternoon, during which the World War II "comfort women" was a recurring key issue, Xinhua reported.

The committee, composed of independent experts that monitors implementation of the covenant, said the system of institutionalised sex slavery used by the Japanese Army before and during the World War II was the most compelling example of the crime of sexual slavery and denial of justice to victims.

But as the committee noted, from the 1990s, numerous reports and recommendations from UN bodies have been criticising Japan for not accepting responsibility for war crimes and international law.

The committee pointed out that the sixth periodic report -- in which Japan held the view that it is not appropriate for the issue of "comfort women" to be brought up in the present review -- acknowledged that the issue was one that severely injured the honour and dignity of many women.

It added that the report neither addressed Japan's legal responsibilities, nor gave information on legislative and administrative measures to provide victims of the "comfort women" system the full effective redress.

The committee stressed that although the Japanese government insisted its legal responsibility and obligation towards compensation have already been settled by citing the San Francisco Peace Treaty and other bilateral agreements, there were differences in interpretation of these agreements, especially with regard to their scope and substance.

The UN panel said there has been little progress in resolving the problem of "comfort women" despite the recommendations made consistently by international bodies.

It drew attention to the recent review by Japanese government of the Kono Statement, an official apology made in 1993 by then chief cabinet secretary Yohei Kono who acknowledged that Japan recruited more than 200,000 young women from China, Korea and Southeast Asia and forced them to serve in military brothels during WWII.

An expert with the committee said that the review discredited victims by questioning their claims of having been forcibly taken away by stating that it was not possible to confirm that these women "were forcibly recruited," which caused tremendous pain to the survived victims.

The expert said that in the 1993 statement of apology, Japanese authorities committed to squarely face the historic facts and take them as lessons of history, and 20 years or so later it was the high time for Japan to take the first lesson by replacing the euphemism "comfort women" with "enforced sex slaves."

As for this concern, the Japanese delegation replied that the term "sexual slaves" was not appropriate, and the forceful nature of the use of "comfort women" had been partly recognized, adding that Japan did not consider "comfort women" as a slavery issue.

The committee expressed its confusion here, said it could not understand the distinction between women being forced into sexual slavery and them being used against their free will, adding that an independent international inquiry might be needed to finally clarify the matter.

All parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the core human rights instrument, are obliged to submit regular reports to the committee on how the rights are being implemented.

Parties must report initially one year after acceding to the covenant and then whenever the committee requests (usually every four years). The committee examines each report and addresses its concerns and recommendations to the party in the form of concluding observations.


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