Feminists Call for State Department to Bring Justice for Former "Comfort Women"
Statement of NOW Membership President Karen Johnson
July 23, 2001
The National Organization for Women stands outside the U.S. State Department today in solidarity with survivors of sexual slavery, abuse and torture by the Japanese government during World War II. We stand with fifteen women, representing more than 200,000 so-called "comfort women," who have brought a class-action lawsuit against Japan, seeking reparations for and public acknowledgment of horrible injustices. Feminists and other human rights advocates call on the U.S. State Department to withdraw its Statement of Interest in the dismissal of this historic lawsuit.
The world has long seen the use of rape as a weapon of war, oppression and genocide. Finally, this year for the first time in history, the International War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia convicted three military men of crimes against humanity for the systematic rape of women. The Japanese government should be held to the same standard for its military's torture, abuse and forced sexual slavery of hundreds of thousands of women abducted from a number of Asian countries (80 percent of them from Korea) during the Second World War. Yet, in the case of the "comfort women" our government and governments around the world not only look the other way, but are now participating in the Japanese cover up and actually allow the Japanese government to be rewarded, as international businesses and financiers continue to make deals with those that condoned sexual slavery.
The U.S. State Department should strive to uphold human rights internationally, rather than turning a blind eye when business, trade and financial matters are involved. The U.S. government should also examine its own role in the sexual victimization of women and its role in sex trafficking, particularly in regards to the U.S. military. As a retired U.S. Air Force officer, I personally witnessed the rampant solicitation of sexual behavior from women in Asia, where there were 9,000 women in the sex trade industry located in northern Thailand to meet the "needs" of U.S. military soldiers. Not only should the U.S. publicly condemn mass rape and slavery during World War II and stand up for justice by urging Japan to compensate and publicly apologize to the former "comfort women". It must also acknowledge its participation in the sex trafficking industry and take steps to eliminate further involvement. A refusal to do so highlights an ignorance to the fact that rape, both domestically and internationally, is terrorism and a crime against humanity. The State Department should be taking the lead on demanding justice for violations of human rights, rather than calling for dismissal of the former comfort women's pleas. Since they will not, we must.