Japan’s UN Human Rights 2023 report silent on comfort women issues

Japan’s report during the Fourth Cycle of the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review of Human Rights is incomplete due to its silence on the comfort women issue.

Through the Universal Periodic Review, the Human Rights Council will review, on a periodic basis, the fulfillment by each of the 193 United Nations Member States of their human rights obligations and commitments.

A review of a State is based on: (a) a national report prepared by the State under review; (b) a compilation of United Nations information on the State under review prepared by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and (c) a summary of information submitted by other stakeholders (including civil society actors, national human rights institutions and regional organizations), also prepared by OHCHR.

During the fourth UPR cycle, States are again expected to spell out steps they have taken to implement recommendations posed during their previous reviews, which they committed to follow up on, and highlight recent human rights developments in the country.

On the occasion of the fourth review last January 31, 2023, supporters of the comfort women campaign, led by the Flowers for Lolas, converged in front of the Japanese Embassy in Pasay City as they urged Japan to finally acknowledge its war crimes against Asian nations and take the necessary steps toward a fair and long overdue resolution of the issue.

While declaring its achievements in various human rights areas such as trafficking in persons, promotion of women’s rights, anti-discrimination, hate speech, human rights education, among others, the Japanese government was completely silent on the “comfort women” system, which is also at the core of these issues. 

It also totally ignored the recommendations made by other countries —particularly China and South Korea during the Third Cycle Review in 2017—for Japan to finally address this long-standing issue.

Aside from the recent 2023 review, Japan’s human rights  record was already reviewed thrice—May 2008, October 2012, and November 2017.

The former High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said in a 2014 statement that Japan “has failed to pursue a comprehensive, impartial and lasting resolution” to address the rights of so-called “comfort women”.

“It pains me to see that these courageous women, who have been fighting for their rights, are passing away one by one, without their rights restored and without receiving the reparation to which they are entitled,” Pillay stressed.

She underscored that the issue of “comfort women” is not relegated to history, but continues to impede violations of victims’ human rights.

The UN Committee on Human Rights earlier called for access to justice and reparations for victims and their families, the disclosure of all evidence available, and education in the country surrounding the issue.

About 200,000 women from Korea, China, Burma, New Guinea, and the Philippines were abducted, trafficked, or brought to the Japanese military camps, and many thousands more were raped as part of one of the largest operations of sexual violence in modern history.

The girls had their own dreams and visions for the future. All these were shattered.

The military sexual slavery enforced by Japan is a war crime and atrocious human rights violation, as confirmed by major international and domestic institutions.

Historians have determined that there was a range of force or coercion used against comfort women wherein the violence and threats were endemic.

As a result of the actions of their Japanese tormentors, the victims have spent their lives in misery, having endured physical injuries, pain and disability, and mental and emotional suffering.

From the more than 200 documented survivors in the late 1990s, less than 50 Filipino comfort women are still alive.

This highlights a sense of urgency for them to receive a formal unequivocal public apology and just compensation from Japan as well as accurate historical inclusion while their voices can still be heard.

It has been almost eight decades since the war ended on August 15, 1945, and yet the Japanese government still refuses to recognize its official accountability to the victims of sex slavery. 

Justice has not yet been given to these women. Their fight continues up to this day.

The Lolas are dying and we must not allow the issue to die with them.

Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, e-mail info@sapalovelez.com, or call 0917-5025808 or 0908-8665786.


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