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A History of Trauma--The Comfort Women

The Japanese Government's Legal Liability to Comfort Women

--A Note for Taiwanese Comfort Women's Request of Restitution to Japan

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By Wang, Ching-Feng and Chian, Mei-Fen*

Taipei Women Rescue Foundation

Oct. 31, 1997


I. Investigation of the Current Status of Taiwanese Comfort Women

C"Comfort Woman" in Japanese characters are derived from Chinese, but never these three words have appeared in any textbooks or the dictionaries in Chinese. Before 1992, we had never heard of the fact that Taiwan women had been sent to Japanese troops during WWII for sexual services.

@In 1992 February, Ms. Hideko Itoh, the former senator of Japan House of Representative discovered three pieces of telegrams in the library of Japan Guard Bureau Research Center. According to the three telegrams: In response to the request from South Site Headquarter to conscript 50 "comfort aboriginals" to Sarawak of Borneo for sexual service, Japan's chief officer of Taiwan site requested the approval of transfer to Japan's Ministry of Army on March 12, 1942. In the same year, the Ministry of Army approved this request. Later on, the South Site Headquarter made another request to dispatch another twenty comfort women due to the overload works the previous fifty ones experienced. Again, the Japanese Chief of Taiwan Army submitted another request for approval. The three pieces of telegrams proved that, during WWII, some Taiwanese women were sent to the Japanese troops as comfort women.

@Taipei Women Rescue Foundation (TWRF), a private organization whose aim is to rescue and assist women/children who suffer sexual abuse, set up a hotline for the victims on February 20 to initiate relevant investigation and assistance immediately after the news were released. In March, Taiwan government established Taiwanese Comfort Women Executive Committee and a hotline for claims and accredited TWRF to investigate these cases. In the end of 1992, 66 cases were registered at both parties. Due to the psychological disturbance or elderly weakness, most applicants did not make their claims in person. They claimed through their friends or adopted children who knew their past.

@During TWRF's investigation, some victims refused any interview, some did not give correct addresses for further contact, some denied that they were once comfort women, some eventually gave up their claims, and some were not comfort women but nurses or cooks. At that time, only 37 women who were approved to be comfort women were alive, of which, 35 were Taiwanese and 2 from Mainland China. Thirteen of them passed away during these years, and later, 6 Chinese survived victims were added to the list. Until October 1997, there are still 30 victims alive.

@These survived victims were either deceived or conscripted to leave Taiwan to serve Japanese army in Hai-nan Island, Indonesia, Philippine, Burma, Singapore, Okinawa or Kuan-Tung Province in the Mainland China. Other than these places, according to the disclosed archives, some were sent to Sarawak of Borneo, New Guinea, and the Mainland China. Members of these victims were mothers and daughters, and sisters. One of the victims even met her own brother at the Comfort Station. What a miserable scene it was!

@During January and September 1996, some aboriginal women learnt about "comfort women" from their husbands or relatives who attended theConference for Descendants of Japanese Soldier With Taiwan Nationality and filed their petitions to TWRF. Fourteen aboriginal women were once forced to provide sexual services in the Japanese military base, but two of them gave up their request for compensation because of the objection from their family or the fear that their family would learn their past.

@These aboriginal women were from three tribes of Taiwan's ten aboriginal tribes: Taroga, Taiya, and Bunon. They were all sent to the Japanese military camp sites or activity centers within Taiwan Island, but one was sent to Kowloon in Hong Kong. Some of them, who now still live in the distant mountains in Taiwan, were deceived to provide sexual services in the Japanese soldiers' campsites in another distant mountains in Taiwan. While their husbands or brothers were recruited to Japan army in overseas, the Japanese police deceived these women to go to the campsites with the excuses of clothes sewing, tea-serving, chores cleaning, etc. One or two months after their arrivals to the campsites, the Japanese army forced these women to act as sexual doll for Japanese officers or soldiers, which seriously damage their dignity and their tribal laws. Although these women were not called "Comfort Women" then, what they did was no difference from the so-called name.

@The general public's concern on the comfort women issue focuses on exactly how many Taiwan women were sent to Japanese military bases to do sexual services. Based on the witness of Taiwanese soldiers in Japan and the released archives, there were at least 1,200 comfort women from 1930 to 1945. The number reached its peak from 1942 to 1943, even when the WWII was over. At present, 42 survived Taiwanese victims are taken care of by TWRF and supported by the Taiwan government subsidies, which include both Chinese and aboriginal women.

@The establishment of "Comfort Station" was essentially a system of Japanese military authority adapted to force women prostitute to slave human sexually. Most victims in the Comfort Station undertook their first sex experience on a condition of being raped or forced, which caused serious psychological trauma in each individual's life. In TWRF's investigation of the survived victims, we found that the victims are still suffering the pain physically and psychologically. More than half of them could not get pregnant, and most of them have chronicle diseases. Furthermore, the psychological impact on these women made them felt themselves dirty, ashamed that they disgraced themselves and isolated themselves from others. They are either afraid of getting married, or unable to ask for any commitment from their lovers. For those who got married, their marriage was unstable and unhappy due to their past. Some thought that they must have done something evil in their previous life that they have to be punished in this life. They go to tempos to chant sutras, to confess, to pursue liberation, and they even commit suicide. Although the period of time they spent at the Japanese military base was a small part of their life, what they had experienced caused an incurable impact on their health, marriage, mind, and social adaptation.

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II. Wait Justice to Come

@Our traditional stereotype of the physiological-chastity of women, the society's discrimination against sexual abused victims, the victims' limited capacity to self-help, and the public's ignorance to this issue have made the victims swallow their own pains and tears in the dark and cry for their loss of youth, health, and happiness for 50 years alone. After the TWRF has set up the channels for petition to provide them comforts and assistance, these victims finally bursted into tears during their utterance of embarrassment, and a strip of light started to project to their long-locked heart. These Taiwanese women deserve a just treatment.

@Since the disclosure of Taiwanese women's being sent to Japanese troops for sexual service during WWII, The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Taiwan government has repeatedly requested Japanese government to apologize for such criminal act and make one-time compensation to each victim. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs claims that the compensation to Taiwan victims should be made fairly and justly with no difference from compensation to victims of other countries.

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III. TWRF Take Action

@The issue of Taiwan comfort women was initiated by TWRF in the beginning, then Taiwan government accredited TWRF to investigate this issue. Since then, TWRF has respectively completed 3 investigation reports on June 22, 1992, Dec 15, 1992, and August 15, 1997. Report analysis was presented on June 30, 1993 and August 15, 1997. The former was regarding Chinese comfort women, and the later was on aboriginal comfort women. These reports are to help Taiwan society understand the comfort women issue better and to stimulate further studies on this issue. They are also to help the negotiation of compensation between Taiwan and Japan.

@Other than investigations, reports, TWRF also provided victims psychological counseling, living supports, and assisted them to request for governmental subsidies. Joint petition of Taiwan congress people was also called by TWRF to request Japanese government and its national house of assembly to make legislative compensation. TWRF appealed Japanese Attorney Association to initiate investigation on this issue, and to submit letter of rectification to Japan Prime Minister Hashimoto to solve this issue through legal action. TWRF also invited victims to attend national councils in hope to utilize peer influence to help them overcome their past to face the reality, to correct our social stereotypes, and to urge our society to understand more about sexual victims. Most of all, TWRF made this issue known to international community and exchanged experiences and viewpoints with victims and supporting groups from other Asian countries, together we took steps simultaneously to request Japanese government's publishing these historical documents, proceeding investigation, apology, and compensation.

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IV. Taiwan Government's Subsidies

@In order to take care of the victims' life, from July 1995, the government subsidized each victim an NT$ 6,000 (US$ 216) monthly allowance and raised it to NT$ 15,000 (US$ 540) in January 1997. In addition, extra subsidies for medical care, nursing, psychological counseling, and special nursing for major injuries were provided.

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V. Boycott Asian Women Fund

@In June 1995, Japanese government announced the establishment of Asian Peace and Friendship Foundation for Women (the so-called Asian Women Fund) administratively sponsored by Japanese government. The purpose of this foundation is to raise fund from private sectors to compensate the victims of comfort women, and to proceed lobbying activities in several countries. Its lobbying objects include our government agencies, public agencies, non-governmental organizations, and especially the victims. The Asian Women Fund also makes use of the media to cry to Taiwanese people. Due to our society's little understanding to the essence, history, solemnity and significance of comfort women issue, and the survived victims' ageing and their silence about their past, many people think that Asian Women Fund's offer is acceptable.

@It is not only inhuman to conscript and deceive numerous women to serve as sexual slaves, it is also a criminal act in Japan's laws. There is no doubt that Japan government should take its legal liability to the victims officially, and a little compensation via a private organization in the name of pseudo-human right shall never eliminate the fact of this government-led damage on womens' rights. Such behavior is not only irresponsible but also harmful to Japan's national reputation.

@On Feb. 8, 1996, Japanese government stated that they would not accept the suggestions of specific report by UN Human Rights Committee. Taiwan government immediately responded to this statement and solemnly articulated again our position to support the victims and relevant support groups. Taiwan government opposed Japan to compensate the victims through private funds to escape its national duty, it demanded that Japan should respect the will of each victim, and repeated the request of one-time compensation to Taiwanese victims without double standards.

@In April 1996, 148 (90%) of our congress delegates made a joint request to Japan's Prime Minister to accept UN's suggestion, but no positive response has been received from Japan government. In December, 150 of the Taiwanese delegates again sent a joint-petition letter to Japan's Prime Minister, House of Representatives, and the Parliament, which seriously demanded Japanese government to solve comfort women issue through legal action.

@TWRT rejects Japanese government's escaping its legal liability from the comfort women issue through the Asian Women Fund. In order to voice for the victims, TWRF either accompanied with or represented the victims to participate in the international conferences or support activities. TWRF requested Japanese government to follow the solution suggested in the report of Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy of UN's Human Right Committee, and follow the compensation model of Taiwanese Servicemen in Japanese Army to solve the war-time sexual slave issue.

@As both the victims and TWRF rejected Asian Women Fund's offer, Asian Women Fund was irritated and requested our government to replace TWRF with other organizations to distribute the compensation fund as if Taiwan was still one of Japan's colonies and should be subordinated to its authority. The lobbying activities of Asian Women Fund faced a deadlock such that it commissioned Taiwanese law firm advertised on three major Taiwanese newspapers, claiming that it was established for the sake of military comfort women. The ads expressed Japan's national concerns toward this issue and they would like to compensate each victim a 2 million-Yen fund, and Asian Women Fund were not here to represent Japanese government for compensation. However, at the same advertisement, it specified that Japanese government would only take the obligation to subsidize medical care assistance to each victim. In other words, Japan government would not take any legal liability to comfort women.

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VI. A Miserable Commercial Film--"The Fifty Years of Comfort Women"

@To prevent Taiwan people from being misled by Asian Women Fund's grotesque words, TWRF made a commercial film acted by the former minister of Legal Affairs Mr. Ma Ing-Chio, the national assembly delegate Ms. Ge Yu-Chin, and writer of this article--attorney Wang Ching-Feng. This commercial film explained how grievous the comfort women were maltreated by the collective insults of Japanese soldiers, the deceiving ideas of the Asia Women Fund, and why Japan government cannot get away from its legal liability. The production and broadcasting of this commercial film on TV were free of charge in hope that Taiwan people could better understand this issue. Meanwhile, TWRF also advertised "Fifty Years' Sorrow of Comfort Women" on the press with "the unspeakable insult, the impossible dream of marriage and childbearing, and sleepless night" to express our rejection to Japan's national fund and urge Japan government to take its legal liability promptly.

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VII. Ow Lee's Auction of 100 Treasuries to Sponsor Comfort Women

@Due to Japan government's unwillingness to take legal liability to compensate comfort women, its intention to settle this issue by Asian Women Fund, and the poor situation of comfort women boith in social and health, cultural critic Mr. Ow Lee decided to donate 100 pieces of his personal treasuries for auction in July, 1997. A 2 million Yen (500,000 NT dollar) fund for each comfort woman will be given to reject Japan's Asian Woman Fund. Mr. Lee said,

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"During World War II, the US defense agency invited anthropologist, Ruth Fulton Benedict, to study Japan. She wrote the book The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture and stated that Japanese personality consist two faces: one is as elegant as Chrysanthemum, and the other is as cruel as sword. What Benedict did not realize was that Japanese are truly cruel but never elegant. Elegance needs wisdom, but Japaneses' two-faces-character kills their wisdom. These two faces are "fighter" and "town resident" quality. The former makes them bullies, the latter narrow-minded people. This is why neither they can be good winners, nor good losers."

"Since the ancient time, women who prostitute were either for family, poverty, or for saving her husband and her children. More or less, their sacrifices were positive. But, being forced to become comfort woman by Japanese was negative. Japanese ruined their whole life and even want to utilize them at the end of their poor life by settling this world argument privately, to which we should not keep silent. The purpose of this auction is to support comfort women. Despite that their youth and whole life have been ruined, they have found positive meaning at the end of their life by telling the whole world that Japanese have never been good winners, or good losers. Japanese are still insolent and wicked after they lost the two Wold Wars. Fifty years after the war are finished, they still stand there like suited animals; they can never be elegant Chrysanthemum."

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@The 100 piece treasuries Mr. Lee offered include Chinese calligraphy, stone rubbing, scripts, art works, Buddhist pieces, photographic works, and Taiwan native pieces. The auction spent only 1 month from preparation to implementation, which many experienced experts could not believe it. The Auction was held at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall on August 31, 1997. Its success has set the record for such a large-scale auction in the Memorial Hall since its establishment in 1972. A fund amounted to NT$ 41 million (equal o 164 million Yen, or US$ 1,518,519) were raised from the auction and donation. TWRF has distributed to the 42 survived victims for 50 thousand NT each.

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VIII. NT$ 50,000 Subsidy From Taiwan Government

@In May 1997, Taiwan's Legislative Yuan passed a proposal by legislative members to urge Taiwan government prepaying 50 thousand NT by government's allowance to the victims of comfort women, and continue to request Japan government's apology and compensation to Taiwanese victims.

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IX. The Future

@All the excuses that Japanese government used to refuse individual compensation for comfort women are no greater than that: there was no legitimate references. Since resolutions of all compensations have been made on San Francisco Treaty or bilateral treaties, individuals are not the body to claim compensation under international laws, and the claim time has been expired. Not to say that these cases happened when Taiwan was a colony of Japan, it has never been legitimate in Japan's laws to distort and force women to become military sexual slaves. This kind of collective conscription that force women to become sexual slaves is an act that infringes human rights, a crime that violates international laws. Besides, although individual compensation issue for comfort women were not in the list of San Francisco Treaty or bilateral treaties, individual's human right is under the protection of international laws. That is, once individual human right is violated, malefactors have no excuse to refuse compensation. Since those comfort women's loss have never been effectively reimbursed, their claims for compensation against human rights violation should not be limited by space and time. International Commission of Jurists and Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy, executive of UN human right committee also revealed these viewpoints clearly in both reports in Jan 4, 1996. Here, we would like to specifically point out that, first, ROC was not one of the members that signed San Francisco Treaty. Second, the Sino-Japanese Treaty between Japanese and Taiwan government in April 1952 that dealt with Taiwanese residents rights of petition (and debts) have never been settled. In September 1972, Japan officially established diplomatic relations with PRC and acknowledged PRC government as the only legitimate Chinese regime such that the Sino-Japanese Treaty between Japan and ROC in April 1952 became ineffective then. Therefore, the issue of Taiwanese comfort women for compensation have never been dealt with.

@We understand how difficult it is to request Japanese government to compensate comfort women individually, but the difficulty should never be the reason to accept the private settlement of Japanese government to help it get away from its legal liability. We have done private compensation through the efforts of non-governmental organizations. And, in order to protect our national dignity, our government has agreed to prepay NT$ 50,000 to each survived victim. We want Japan government be connected with both the crime in forcing women collectively to become sexual slaves, and with the fact of their refusal to compensate for their criminal act. We do believe that there are many people of wisdom in Japan who will keep working with us at the line of compensation-denial historical record.

@Victims from Korea, Philippine, and China had submitted to Japan's Tokyo District Court their claims for 20 million-Yen compensation for each from Japanese government. But, victims of Taiwan were so confined by traditional views of chastity that they denied to stand up in the public. Nevertheless, within recent 6 years, some of the victims in Taiwan attended international conferences and made contact with victims of Korea and Philippine, and realized how those victims' societies accepted them, which gradually help them get out of the dark. We will study the possibility to claim compensation from Japan government at Tokyo District Court with the victims, Japanese attorneys and support groups.

@TWRF will continue to publish books regarding the comfort women issue, produce documentary films to record this inhuman, especially, the infringement of women's human rights issues. We will keep on participating international activities, setting up web site, in hope to solicit every global citizen to better understand and support these comfort women to claim compensation from the Japan government. We'll also look forward that people of position in the world could urge Japan government to face the reality and solve this issue.

@On December 10, 1948, the United Nation passed "World Human Right Declaration"--a set of principles that each UN member must respect and practice. As a UN member, Japan is no exception of this declaration. Regarding comfort women issue, the Japan government has over and again refused to compensate and apologize on this issue. However, 50 years after the war was over, it still set up the Asian Women Fund to manage to compensate the victims. We sincerely hope that Japanese citizens with conscience could deliver their wisdom to urge their government fulfilling its liability to these victims.

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Wang Ching-Fong: Attorney, Former Chairman of Taipei Women Rescue Foundation

Chian Mei-Fen: A Social Worker of Taipei Women Rescue Foundation

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All Rights Reserved by the Taipei Women Rescue Foundation and Ms. Wang, Ching-Feng and Chian, Mei-Fen. Any non-academic citation must obtain the written agreement from the author.


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