Congressmen to Japan: Don’t Downplay ‘Comfort Women’ Issue

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WASHINGTON — Reps. Mike Honda (D-San Jose) and Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) sent the following letter on Feb. 20 to Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. Kenichiro Sasae.

We are writing today to express our serious concern with recent suggestions that your new government and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may attempt to revise Japan’s apology for its wartime aggressions committed during World War II, including that of forced sexual servitude by women who have become known as ianfu or “comfort women.”

Reps. Mike Honda and Steve Israel

During its colonial and wartime occupation of Asia and the Pacific Islands from the 1930s through World War II, the government of Japan and its imperial armed forces were involved in forced sexual slavery, involving approximately 200,000 young women from Korea, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Australia, and the Netherlands. The suffering endured by these “comfort women” included gang rape, forced abortions, humiliation, and sexual violence resulting in mutilation, death, and even eventual suicide.

The 1993 Kono Statement, issued by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, acknowledged and expressed the Japanese government’s apology for the military’s involvement in the “comfort women” system of forced sexual slavery.

While we commend Chief Cabinet Secretary Kono for offering the Kono Statement, we believe the government of Japan should offer a full and formal acknowledgement and apology for the “comfort women.” Nothing is more important right now than for a democratic country like Japan to apologize for systematic atrocity.

This issue is of the utmost importance not only for those directly affected, but also for citizens throughout the world. It is for this very reason we are alarmed to hear of any possible retraction of the acknowledgement and apology for the “comfort women” set forth by the Kono Statement.

If revised, this action would have grave implications for the U.S.-Japanese relationship and could ignite unnecessary tension and provocation with neighboring countries. Mr. Honda knows, as someone who was put into an internment camp as an infant during World War II, we must not be ignorant of the past, and that reconciliation through government actions, to admit error, are the only ones likely to be long-lasting.

That’s why the House of Representatives unanimously passed H.Res. 121 in 2007, expressing the sentiment that Japan should “formally acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner for its imperial armed force’s coercion of young women in to sexual slavery.”

Maintaining the proper awareness, education, and apology for the “comfort women” is an important obligation for the government of Japan. This will not only demonstrate your government’s leadership and commitment to human rights and the prevention of human trafficking, but will also demonstrate the acceptance of historical responsibility and bring further progress in strengthening its relationship with neighboring countries.

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