The issue of “comfort women”: denial, recognition, initiatives of the Japanese Goverments

"Japan", foto di Moyan Brenn,licenza CC BY,
“Japan”, foto di Moyan Brenn,licenza CC BY,

During the Second World War uncountable war crimes were comitted. Unfortunately, when related to the Pacific War, many of those crimes remain out of the spotlight in westwern countries.

This is maybe the case of forced “military prostitution” in those territories occupied by the Japanese Imperial Army in Asia between the Thirties and the Fifties of the Twentieth century. Official reports gathered by the US Army first and by several NGOs later, provide direct testimonies of women and even girls under 18 who were induced or forced to leave their houses and sent to “comfort stations” in Korea, China, Taiwan, Burma and more. These facilities were official places of prostitution built specifically to please the soldiers of the Japanese Imperial Army. The Japanese Army perpetrated widespread kidnapping and abduction of females in the occupied territories (mainly Korea) as a part of Sankō Sakusen, the policy of “The Three Alls”: kill all, burn all, loot all.

For many years the Japanese governments lived in denial, or better, in un – admittal, refusing to recognize their responsabilities. Compensation was denied to the victims despite the international requests, coming mainly from Korea since the end of the Korean War, claiming for official apologies from Japan.

Official recognition and apologies for those crimes came only in 1993, after decades of diplomatic silence. On the 4th of August the Kono Declaration was released by the Japanese Government:

 August 4, 1993

   The Government of Japan has been conducting a study on the issue of wartime “comfort women” since December 1991. I wish to announce the findings as a result of that study.

   As a result of the study which indicates that comfort stations were operated in extensive areas for long periods, it is apparent that there existed a great number of comfort women. Comfort stations were operated in response to the request of the military authorities of the day. The then Japanese military was, directly or indirectly, involved in the establishment and management of the comfort stations and the transfer of comfort women. The recruitment of the comfort women was conducted mainly by private recruiters who acted in response to the request of the military. The Government study has revealed that in many cases they were recruited against their own will, through coaxing, coercion, etc., and that, at times, administrative/military personnel directly took part in the recruitments. They lived in misery at comfort stations under a coercive atmosphere.

   As to the origin of those comfort women who were transferred to the war areas, excluding those from Japan, those from the Korean Peninsula accounted for a large part. The Korean Peninsula was under Japanese rule in those days, and their recruitment, transfer, control, etc., were conducted generally against their will, through coaxing, coercion, etc.

   Undeniably, this was an act, with the involvement of the military authorities of the day, that severely injured the honor and dignity of many women. The Government of Japan would like to take this opportunity once again to extend its sincere apologies and remorse to all those, irrespective of place of origin, who suffered immeasurable pain and incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women.

   It is incumbent upon us, the Government of Japan, to continue to consider seriously, while listening to the views of learned circles, how best we can express this sentiment.

   We shall face squarely the historical facts as described above instead of evading them, and take them to heart as lessons of history. We hereby reiterate our firm determination never to repeat the same mistake by forever engraving such issues in our memories through the study and teaching of history.

   As actions have been brought to court in Japan and interests have been shown in this issue outside Japan, the Government of Japan shall continue to pay full attention to this matter, including private researched related thereto.


If this declaration clearly shows remorse, it doesn’t set forth an offer of compensation, it doesn’t even mention it. The declaration of Kono really brought up again, with more strenght than ever, the international claims for compensation.

 As a response, in 1994 the Japanese Government said that no compensation should be issued because Japan had already signed the San Francisco Peace Treaty and other relevant accords, so no further sums should be paid as repair for War Crimes. The result of this policy is that comfort women had not received compensation neither from the San Francisco Peace Treaty, nor from the unilateral initiative of the Government of Japan, which by the way had officially recognized its moral responsibility in 1993.

 One year later, in 1995, a coalition government led by Prime Minister Murayama recognized the hypocrisy of this situation. The most convenient solution was found in creating the Asian Women’s Found, on the 18th of July 1995. This Found was established with the initiative of the Government, and its purpose was specifically to make justice for all the victims of forced prostitution enacted by the Japanese Imperial Army throughout Asia. The Korean Government at first recognized this initiative as sincere and satisfactory, but many very active associations of Korean citizens pointed out that the establishment of AWF was not satisfactory at all, because it was an association promoted by members of the Japanese Government as individuals that raised money from private citizens, not from Japan’s assets. In fact the Japanese Government did not provide the AWF with the amount of money necessary to give the due compensation to those who were seeking for it, it just gave AWF the initial sum for its establishment, as stated in the official founding act.

The Korean Government faced these pleedings and changed its positive attitude towards Japan’s initiative: in fact an official demand was brought in front of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights by korean associations supported by their government. On the 4th of January 1996, Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights and Violence Against Women, presented a report on the issue of comfort women and described that activity as “military sexual slavery” and stated that Japan should accept legal responsabilities under International Law, therefore should accept legal claims by comfort women and pay compensation after disclosing the related documents completely.

 This matter is an open wound these days, because victims of military sexual slavery, supported by the UN Commission on Human Rights and Violence Against Women, are still waiting for the next move of the Japanese Government, hoping to obtain full rightful compensation and therefore to see justice finally restored.