December 8, 2000
War-time Japanese leaders among those accused at comfort women trial Tokyo
The leaders of Japan during World War II were among those accused Friday at a five-day tribunal designed to make the government face its responsibility for the Imperial Japanese Army's recruitment of forced wartime prostitutes, or comfort women.
For the first time ever, many former Asian sex slaves gathered in Tokyo to speak out for justice at a symbolic international war crimes tribunal, the Women's International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan's military sexual slavery. The tribunal's proceedings began on Friday.
As many as 200,000 women, mostly from Korea, are said to have been taken to front-line brothels and forced to provide sex to Japanese soldiers before and during World War II. Mostly recruited by the Japanese military, such wartime sex slaves became known as "comfort women" in Japan and abroad.
Attended by about 1,100 people, the tribunal named high-ranking military officers and politicians as among the defendants. Most of the accused are already dead.
The tribunal consists of four judges, led by Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, former president of the War Crime Tribunal on the former Yugoslavia, two chief prosecutors and country prosecutors from South Korea, North Korea, China, Taiwan, and the Philippines, among others.
Ustinia Dolgopol, a chief prosecutor, from Australia, accused Japan of failure to meet its obligations under international humanitarian law.
The tribunal is expected to hear testimony from about 75 former comfort women, with legal experts serving as prosecutors and a non-Japanese lawyer acting as the chief judge who will issue a symbolic judgment on December 12, the final day of the trial.
The women survivors from North Korea, China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Indonesia, East Timor, Malaysia and the Netherlands are demanding that Japan apologize and compensate them for the mistreatment at the hands of the Japanese during the war.
The symbolic tribunal, organized by Asian women and human rights organizations in the Asia-Pacific region, will also focus on alleged cover-ups of evidence of the forced sexual slavery system by the Japanese government.
The Japanese government, which failed to respond to the tribunal's invitation to participate in the event, continues to deny any legal responsibility for the suffering of the former comfort women.
Sexual violence committed by the Japanese Imperial Army was hardly touched by the 1946-1948 International Military Tribunal for the Far East in Tokyo, set up by the Allied Forces after the war.
The women's tribunal, which modeled after the 1967 International War Crimes Tribunal on the Vietnam War, established by British philosopher Bertrand Russell, is expected to clarify the nature and extent of both individual and state responsiblities over the issue.
Although the tribunal is not legally binding, it aims to put pressure on the Japanese government to render full and complete restitution to the women and end what it calls the "cycle of impunity", where perpetrators are glorified as war heroes.
Japanese media has been quiet on this event. All major Japanese newspapers, except Mainichi Shimbun newspaper, had not covered the event so far. Mainichi Shimbun had a very small article about the event.
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