The Responses of the Government of Japan to the Comfort Women Crisis: Activated but Delayed
Fierce fighting took place in court between us and the Korean and Chinese organizations from 2014 and 2017. Even though their governments did not show up in front, those organizations which appeared to have received assistance from the respective governments were defending the City of Glendale. When we went back to Japan, we appealed to Japanese general public donations for our endeavors. Our attorneys advised us that a direct letter from the Government of Japan to the court would contribute to our cause enormously. So, we along with an attorney visited the Consul General in Los Angeles and inquired if a letter could be sent from his office just indicating that the Consul General had strong interest in this lawsuit and was in support of the plaintiffs because such a letter would be effective in this lawsuit. His response was that such a letter would lead to the loss of the diplomatic privileges which he and his colleagues were enjoying in the U.S., and the request was declined. When we were back to Japan, we made the same request to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The reply was that the comfort women issue was not a foreign affair or diplomatic issue, and therefore, the Ministry could not do anything. This incident took place a few years after President Myun-bak Lee of South Korea met and demanded Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda an official apology and compensations from Japan to Korean ex-comfort women. We were deeply disappointed with the Ministry’s response.
To begin with, the original government response to the comfort women issue was misdirected. The Kono Statement of 1993 already contained an apology. Then, the Asian Women’s Fund which followed Kono Statement, tried to resolve the problem by distributing atonement money to ex-comfort women along with a letter of apology from the Japanese Prime Minister. When the U.S. House of Representatives was trying to make a resolution blaming Japan on comfort women, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was trying to prevent it. But, due to strong pressure in the U.S., he had to give it up. But, since then, the situation within Japan had changed.
One prominent change was a statement by the government’s representative at the U.N. Human Rights Council meeting on July 16, 2014. He declared that in reference to the Slave Treaty of 1926, it was inappropriate to call the comfort women as sex-slaves. This position was strengthened by Deputy Minister Shunsuke Sugiyama of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (currently Ambassador to the U.S.) when he spoke at the U.N. meeting for Elimination of Discrimination against Women on February 16, 2016. He stated that on the basis of an extensive study undertaken by the Government of Japan, neither the Government or its military recruited comfort women coercively, nor were they sex-slaves, and the total number was much less than 200,000. This has become the Ministry’s basic position toward the comfort women issue. Nevertheless, as the Japanese government expressed apology and promised to pay money to ex-comfort women at the time of the Japan-South Korea Agreement of 2015, most overseas observers regard that Japan admitted criminal acts.
On the other hand, the Government of Japan started to take positive actions. One example was the 2015 Japan-South Korea Agreement. With this agreement, the government requested the removal of the comfort women statue in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul. Then, when a comfort women statue was installed in front of the Consulate General in Pusan, the Government of Japan withdrew the Japanese Ambassador from Seoul back home. Soon afterwards, when the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta approved the installation of a comfort women statue, a Japanese consul there actively worked against the plan, and led the Center to revoke the decision, a remarkable achievement. Then, when we filed a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court in January 2017, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs asked an attorney in Washington, D.C. to file an amicus curiae brief in support of Koichi Mera and GAHT. In this Ministry’s policy of “the comfort women issue being not a diplomatic issue” has gone away. The intention of the government was clearly expressed in the amicus brief.
As explained, the policy of the Government of Japan toward the comfort women problem has been transformed recently. It is becoming more action-oriented. It is a desirable change. Nonetheless, we cannot be at ease. On the coming July 20th and 60 times from then, a musical “Comfort Women” will be played at the Lincoln Center in New York by a Korean group, to which the Consulate General in New York informed me that they could not do anything because there was no evidence that the Government of South Korea was supporting the event. Also, the Government of Japan would not take any action to the Teachers’ Guide on Comfort Women which was prepared by a Korean organization and distributed to 18 high schools in San Francisco. The Guide is aimed at teaching high school students inhuman and cruel treatments which they claim the Japanese military did to Korean women, despite the fact that the stories have been fabricated.
Koichi Mera, Ph. D.
President, GAHT-US Corporation