UN criticizes Japan for 'denial' of WWII sex slaves

Japan has been accused by the UN of whitewashing its past practice of forcing women to become sex slaves for Japanese Imperial army soldiers. Tokyo was urged to help surviving victims.

The criticism by the U.N. Committee Against Torture comes after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe set off a furor by saying there was no proof the government forced thousands of women from Asia and elsewhere to work as prostitutes for front-line troops during World War II.

In a report issued May 18, the U.N. committee condemned what it called efforts to cover up history and urged Japan to address the "discriminatory roots of sexual and gender-based violations" and improve rehabilitation for survivors.

It said the victims suffered "incurable wounds" and are experiencing "continuing abuse and re-traumatization as a result of the state party's official denial of the facts, concealment or failure to disclose other facts, failure to prosecute those criminally responsible for acts of torture, and failure to provide adequate rehabilitation to the victims and survivors."

In March, a fund set up by Japan to help Asian women forced into military brothels expired amid widespread criticism it had fallen short of healing wounds. While it compensated 285 women from the Philippines, South Korea and Taiwan, many victims rejected the money because it did not come directly from the government or with an official government apology.

Historians say as many as 200,000 women from Japan, Korea, China and elsewhere worked in Japanese military brothels in the 1930s and '40s. Many victims say they were forced to work by military authorities and were held against their will.

After decades of denial, the Japanese government acknowledged its role in wartime prostitution after a historian, Yoshiaki Yoshimi, discovered documents showing government involvement. That led to a carefully worded official apology in 1993 and the establishment of the private fund to pay the women limited reparations.

However, Abe rekindled controversy earlier this year by saying there is no evidence the women were coerced, apparently backtracking from the earlier apology. Since then, he has repeatedly distanced himself from the comment, saying he sympathizes with the victims' plight and apologizes for the "situation they found themselves in."

Conservative governing party lawmakers contend the women were professional prostitutes and were paid for their services. They also maintain that Japanese military authorities were not directly responsible for establishing or running the brothels.

Abe's earlier denial of coercion drew intense criticism from China and South Korea, which accuse Japan of failing to fully atone for wartime invasions and atrocities. The U.S. Congress is also considering a resolution urging Japan to apologize.

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