A class-action lawsuit filed by Second World War sex slaves in the United States drew an expression of “remorse” on Tuesday from Japan and a reminder that the government considered the issue closed.
Fifteen Asian women filed the class action suit against Japan in a U.S. federal court on Monday, seeking compensation and an apology for being forced to work as sex slaves for Japan’s army in the ‘30s and ‘40s.
The 15 so called comfort women — Japan’s euphemism for women from occupied or colonized countries who were forced into sexual slavery — are elderly and frail now and deserve an apology for Japan’s actions, their lawyers said. The women come from Korea, China, the Philippines and Taiwan.
Ryuichiro Yamazaki, a spokesman for the Japanese Foreign Ministry, declined to comment on the specific case but said that Japan’s stance on such issues remained unchanged.
“It is our position that this has been solved legally by the San Francisco Peace Treaty (of 1951, settling claims for war compensation) and other related treaties and documents,” he said.
“We recognize that the honor and dignity of many women involved have been hurt by this issue, and we have been using various occasions to express our feeling of apology and remorse,” Yamazaki added.
Until July 1992, the Japanese government denied that its military ran brothels, and it still denies legal responsibility.
In 1995, however, then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama issued profound apologies, saying Japan’s actions were “entirely inexcusable.”
That year Japan set up the Asian Women’s Fund, a private group with heavy Japanese government support, to make cash payments to all surviving wartime sex slaves.
“The government, in cooperation with the people of Japan, has been doing its best to cooperate with this foundation as it endeavors to do its work,” Yamazaki said.
In the U.S. suit, the elderly Asian women say the “Japanese government built, operated and controlled hundreds of brothels,” or so-called comfort stations, which were staffed with some 200,000 women and girls, who were beaten, raped and made to live in miserable conditions. Abandonment, starvation, disease Inhabiting tiny cubicles and nearly starving, the women were held for up to eight years and were tortured and beaten on a regular basis, the lawyers said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.
“After the war, those who were in combat zones were abandoned, often in dense jungles, while their Japanese captors fled; many of those died of starvation and disease,” while others were executed, the lawsuit charges.
“Survivors returned to what were often lifetimes of isolation and societal rejection, compounded by deeply instilled feelings of guilt and shame … and they suffer grievously to this day,” the statement said.
It is the first lawsuit filed in the United States against Japan seeking compensation for the comfort women, and the first U.S. lawsuit against Japan for what the lawyers described as “World War Two atrocities.”
Earlier cases were filed against Japanese companies for their use of slave labor during the war.
Named in the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, are six women from South Korea, four from China, four from the Philippines and one from Taiwan. But the suit represents “all women who were forced into sexual slavery by Japan between 1931 and 1945, as well as their heirs,” according to the statement.
Lawyers representing the women said the suit was filed under U.S. and international law prohibiting war crimes and crimes against humanity. They did not say how much compensation they were seeking for the plaintiffs.