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"We should not allow Japan to delete its wartime aggression in Asia," says Philippine group for "comfort women"

(Xinhua)    10:01, June 26, 2016

MANILA, June 25 -- Hilaria Bustamante was only 16 years old when, one day more than 70 years ago, three Japanese soldiers abducted her, hauled her onto a military truck and brought her to a garrison where she was reportedly imprisoned and repeatedly raped for a year.

Now at the age of 90, her tragic story as a Philippine comfort woman for the Japanese army during the Second World War is among those included in a document submitted to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

To keep alive the memories of up to 200,000 women and teenage girls from around Asia who were forced to work in Japanese wartime military brothels, support groups of former sex slaves from China, Japan, the Philippines and the Netherlands have jointly asked UNESCO to include documents related to wartime sex slavery in the UN body's Memory of the World Register.

On June 1, a group called the International Solidarity Committee said in Seoul, South Korea, that they filed the application titled "Voice of the Japanese Military Comfort Women" to UNESCO.

It included testimonies of the victims, their photos, court case documents and even art works like drawings and quilts made by the aging women who came forward since the early 1990s, according to Rechilda Extremadura, executive director of the Lila Pilipina (League of Filipino Women), a non-governmental organization assisting the elderly Filipinas.

"These documents must be registered on the UNESCO list. This will preserve the official records and prove that Asian women were indeed forced into Japanese military brothels during World War II," she told Xinhua.

"We should not allow Japan to delete its wartime aggression in Asia. We did not make this up. Sex slavery existed and these documents will prove their existence in the Philippines, the Korean Peninsula, China and Indonesia," she said.

The group took two years to collate all the necessary data. "The process was tedious and meticulous. You need to include measurements of the art works for instance," she said.

Extremadura said the group has decided to keep the idea under wraps to make sure that Japan will not do anything to derail the plan.

"We had to do it very discreetly because we expect Japan to thwart our move. No announcements were made; no press releases. (Tokyo) only learned about it when we filed the application early this month," she said.

Japan is a major donor to UNESCO. Last year, Tokyo threatened to halt or slash its funding to the UN body after UNESCO included China's documents about the Nanjing massacre in its Memory of the World list, despite protests from Japan.

Extremadura stressed the significance of the move, saying the victims are not getting any younger.

"Many of them are getting sick. Time is running out," she said, adding that many of the victims are now in their late 80s and 90s. "Many have passed away without seeing justice."

"It's very important that we preserve the memories of these women who suffered under the hands of Japanese imperial army during the war. If these documents will make it to the list then it will be accessible to everybody interested to do research on the subject," she said.

"When these documents are registered the memory of comfort women will last forever. This will ensure that these significant records will last even beyond the times of the Lolas (grandmothers)."

"The narrations, for example, are very important because these women, due to old age, could no longer testify," Extremadura said, adding that the group will make sure that Japan will not get in the way.

"We have to do what we need to do, that is to make sure that the stories of these Asian women who were imprisoned in garrisons in the Philippines and other Asian countries and places and raped repeatedly by Japanese soldiers are preserved," she said.

She added: "We can not allow Japan to distort history to clear its name in the international community. The scar of war is there. We can not allow Japan to simply erase that scar and pretend the war crimes didn't happen."

"Wartime sex slavery happened. The victims have come forward to tell their brutal stories. So, we want their stories, written or in art form, to be remembered forever."

The Japanese government has officially denied and continues to deny the existence of a "comfort system."

In its reply to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women early this year, the Japanese government stated that following a "full-scale fact-finding study on the comfort women issue since the early 1990s ... 'forceful taking away' of comfort women by the military and Japanese authorities could not be confirmed in any of the documents that the (government of Japan) was able to identify in the above-mentioned study."

It also reiterated its position not to compensate comfort women other than those covered by the Asian Women's Fund in the mid-1990s, including in China and East Timor, as it recently did to South Korean victims.

Tokyo and Seoul clinched a deal in late December to "finally and irreversibly" resolved a decades-long spat over reparations for Korean victims. Under the deal, Tokyo agreed to offer one-time final apology and to pay 1 billion yen (8 million U.S dollars) to provide care for the surviving victims though a foundation.

Finally, it also stated that the Japanese government "is not in a position to answer the question on the specific contents which are taken up in school textbooks and how these contents are described, since (it) does not adopt a government-designated textbook system."

Japan's position was in reply to a question whether the Japanese government intends to reintegrate into school textbooks references to the issue of comfort women and raise awareness among the population of the issue.

Lila Pilipina again raised hell over the statement, accusing Japan of "making moves to distort history."

"After being victims of Japanese war crimes, comfort women are now being made victims of historical distortion," Extremadura said, adding that Japan is "sweeping the comfort women issue under the rug to deny their existence altogether."

"We have long ago submitted documents and testimonies from victims to Japan and the UN. As a result, the UN had declared World War II sexual slavery as a war crime. Japan still continues to contradict the UN and refuses to abide by the resolutions regarding the comfort women system as a war crime. And now, it is revising history by making deals that would silence the victims as they did to (South) Korea."

Extramendura said the inclusion of comfort women in the UNESCO list is all the more important now.

"There may not be many comfort women left to hear the apology or personally receive compensation should Japan, by a miracle, suddenly agree to it but historical inclusion will give justice even to the Lolas who have died fighting for their cause," she said.

Lila Pilipina has documented 174 "comfort women" who have gone public since early 1990s. Only 70 of them remain alive, including Bustamante. Another group, the Malaya Lolas (Free Grandmothers), has documented 90 but the number dwindled to 33 following the death of the rest over the years.

Both groups are demanding official apology, just compensation and inclusion of the comfort women issue in Japan's historical accounts and textbooks.

The Philippine government has intentionally avoided discussions of the issue in bilateral talks with Japan.

"What we fear now is the disregard for the issue involving our comfort women," said Romel Bagares, legal counsel for Malaya Lolas.

"We are getting soft loans from Japan, patrol boats, maritime aircraft but they are silent on their responsibility as a state over what their soldiers did during WWII. This does not clear Japan of its responsibility despite the payment," Bagares said.

"This is sexual slavery, a grave violation of international humanitarian law." 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Editor:Liang Jun,Bianji)

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