A woman’s fight for justice

08/31/2010 Source: Xinhua

An 82-year-old former Chinese “comfort woman” is going to appeal to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in September to pressure the Japanese government to issue an apology to her and other women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II.

Wan Aihua is the first woman to use her real name when accusing Japanese occupiers of crimes during the war. However, she lost three earlier lawsuits in Japan since her first appeal in 1992.

During the past 18 years, Wan has been to Japan eight times to attend international hearings and conferences, and spoke of the ordeal and harrowing experiences that she had gone through, as she sought an apology and compensation.

Although the Japanese government acknowledged that Japan’s imperial army was involved “directly or indirectly” in sexual slavery, it refused to pay the victims compensation.

Japanese courts had rejected Wan’s petition, saying that her right to claim indemnity had expired and China had given up individuals’ claims for reparations in the China-Japan Joint Statement.

“What China gave up at that time is state compensation, because that’s too much for Japan to pay,” said Wan.

“But what I demand is non-governmental compensation. They must repay the debt of blood,” she added.
Historians say the Imperial Japanese Army forcibly sent as many as 200,000 women, mainly from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the Republic of Korea (ROK), China and the Philippines, to wartime Japanese military brothels to work as prostitutes in the 1930s and 1940s.

Wan said she was forced to work as a “comfort woman” for Japanese soldiers in Yuxian County, north China’s Shanxi Province, at the age of 15, in 1943. She said she was savagely tortured by Japanese soldiers because she opposed their abuse.

The inhuman torture had caused her several fractures in her thighs and ribs and deformed her body. Her right ear had been torn and only half an ear remains on her left side.

Although she survived the persecution, she lost the ability to give birth. She had to adopt a girl and never married.

“I’m heart-broken whenever I see others enjoy a happy family life with a husband and children. It is the Japanese invaders who deprived me of the right to be a normal woman and destroyed my whole life,” Wan said.

The Japanese government has acknowledged the wartime atrocities. In 1993, then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, officially acknowledged and apologized over the fact that Japan forced women from other Asian countries to be sex slaves for its soldiers during World War II. But the government’s refusal to accept responsibility has enraged its victims.

In March 2007, then-Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said there was no proof the women were “coerced” to provide sex for imperial Japanese soldiers. He later apologized and said he stood by Japan’s 1993 apology.

Wan said she had met some kind-hearted Japanese who supported her.

She said a Japanese woman in her 70s told her at a hearing that many of Japanese only knew the A-bomb havoc in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “She said only after hearing my stories had she learned that the imperial Japanese army had perpetrated so much wrongdoing.”

Regrettably, only a small number of Japanese can face the facts or know the truth.

With ambiguous apologies, Japan has created some funds to compensate the victims, financed by private donations, not the government, in order to quiet the victims.
“We had to appeal to the International Court of Justice, and I hope we can demand justice there,” Wan Aihua said.

Many victims from China, DPRK, ROK, and the Philippines have broken decades of silence to speak of their traumatic experiences as “comfort women” in recent years, revealing the truth of what the imperial Japanese army did to the countries they invaded during the war.

Wan wrote to Japan’s former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda years ago, but there was no response. She also wrote to former Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, hoping that the Japanese government can resolve the issues of “comfort women” and offer apologies and pay compensation to them, but there was no response, too.

“After so many years, the Japanese government still ignores our denouncements and rejects victims’ legal demands. As a result, we have to continue enduring the huge misfortunes the Japanese military had brought to us,” she said.

“We are all in our eighties, and we only want justice. Can the Japanese government still stand by and watch us dying with indifference?” Wan asked.

Professor Su Zhiling, director of the Chinese Research Center of Comfort Women at Shanghai Normal University, said most of the victims are very poor and living at the bottom of society.

Their children or adopted children cannot help them either, because most of them are peasants who can only give them food.

“Their children can hardly help them demand justice from the Japanese government,” Su said.

According to the rules of the International Court of Justice, it only accepts lawsuits from governments and individual cases will not be accepted, no matter how sad they are, he said.

Like Wan, victims in China, DPRK, ROK and the Philippines are facing the same dilemma that there is no progress on the issue of “comfort women.”

“Most of the assistance given to the ‘comfort women’ comes from some individuals and non-governmental organizations, and their ability is very limited,” Su said.

“The situation is not optimistic,” he added.

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