“Comfort Women” Justice Coalition Statement In Response to Recent Opposition to Our Memorial
We are proud members of the “Comfort Women” Justice Coalition, a grassroots, multi-ethnic and multi-national group of individuals and organizations that are part of the global “Comfort Women” Justice Movement. We are guided by the powerful leadership of the grandmothers (the surviving “Comfort Women”) themselves. In 2017, we unveiled the memorial Comfort Women: Column of Strength in San Francisco to remember the hundreds of thousands of women and girls sexually enslaved by the Japanese Imperial Army from the early 1930s to 1945 and to educate the public about their history. The memorial symbolizes our international resolve never to let that atrocity be repeated, and the memorial is also a reverent testament to all those who have been victims of sexual violence and sex trafficking.
1. Osaka Mayor Yoshimura’s Termination of the Sister-City Relationship Between Osaka and San Francisco
Mayor Edwin Lee of San Francisco, in spite of Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura’s repeated threats to terminate the Osaka-San Francisco sister-city relationship as retribution for installation of the memorial, stood firm in full support of the memorial. On November 22, 2017, Mayor Lee signed the San Francisco Board of Supervisors’ unanimously approved resolution to accept the gift of the “Comfort Women” Memorial from the “Comfort Women” Justice Coalition. The “Comfort Women” Memorial was thus made a municipal memorial, with the explicit approval of the resolution signed by Mayor Lee.
Mayor Yoshimura’s attempt to bully San Francisco backfired.
This embarrassing and poorly timed political grandstanding by Mayor Yoshimura provides an unintended lesson to the people of Osaka and the world—and to all the denialists: They must listen to and learn from the surviving grandmothers, rather than degrade their dignity, in accordance with recommendations by various United Nations bodies. For example, the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) has criticized the so-called 2015 agreement between the foreign ministers of Japan and the Republic of Korea that was rejected by the international community and the survivors themselves.
When the first “grandmas” broke their silence, they helped start a movement to declare that sexual violence during war is a crime against humanity—and to instruct the world community that sexual slavery as a strategy of war must be eradicated. Currently, the world is learning from women about the long history and culture of sexual abuse by men in positions of authority, offering parallels to the “Comfort Women” institution in which women and girls were kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military. Mayor Yoshimura and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are trying to discredit and remove a memorial that reminds the world that sexual abuse in many forms continues today. They will not succeed because in Japan and throughout the world, people realize that the enemies of women’s rights are enemies of human rights.
The “Comfort Women” Justice Coalition (CWJC) will continue to work with our allies in Japan, who share our common vision of justice and freedom from sexual slavery for all women and girls. Along with our allies in Japan, CWJC questions Mayor Yoshimura’s qualification to lead the City of Osaka to host the World Expo 2025, whose goal includes “promoting progress and fostering cooperation … to facilitate the understanding that citizens have about other nations and about future opportunities in a spirit of cooperation and optimism.” We see no evidence that Mayor Yoshimura can do any of those things.
2. Principles of the “Comfort Women” Memorial
The “Comfort Women” Memorial represents a commitment to uphold the fundamental principles of justice and human rights that are firmly rooted in our hope for a future of genuine peace everywhere in the world.
Grounded in an international multi-ethnic solidarity, CWJC, along with our peace allies, has spoken up against the revisionist, racist and sexist policies long held by some ultra-nationalist Japanese leaders who glorify Japan’s imperialist and militaristic aggression in World War II. At the expense of universal human rights principles codified by the international community, these politicians have consistently denied Imperial Japan’s horrific war past in the name of nationalism and increased militarization, ignoring repeated UN warnings to begin addressing multiple forms of oppression and racism deeply rooted in Japanese society. Instead, the Japanese Government attacks the criticism of human rights abuses as “Japan bashing” in order to legitimize its own ultra-nationalist agenda and gross human rights violations.
3. There Are Not “Two Sides” to Historical Fact, Only One
The Japanese Government keeps insisting there are “two sides” to the history of its wars of imperial aggression. There are not. The “two-sides” assertion implies that the very fact of the sexual slavery system on a mass scale under the Japanese Imperial Army can be justified or “understood.” It cannot. Sexual slavery during war has been declared a crime against humanity and a war crime. Japan must be accountable for its own actions. Accountability is the only way to remedy these crimes and to achieve true peace and reconciliation.
Many Asian-American communities have family members who were victims of the sexual slavery system and other atrocities during Japan’s imperial wars of aggression, and those family members carry the burden of collective trauma to this day. By invoking the “two sides” narrative and repressing grassroots efforts to commemorate “Comfort Women” victims, the Japanese Government in effect denies the birthright of our communities to remember history and to demand justice. Instead of joining in the healing by recognizing the atrocities and crimes against humanity committed by Imperial Japan, denials by people like Mayor Yoshimura and Prime Minister Abe re-open the deep wounds from one of the most tragic eras in human history.
4. Solidarity Among Peace Communities
The “Comfort Women” Justice Coalition stands in solidarity with our friends in Osaka and elsewhere in Japan in the pursuit of genuine peace. CWJC wishes to commend San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee for his support of the “Comfort Women” Memorial and San Francisco’s goal of eradicating sexual violence and sex trafficking. We urge Mayor Yoshimura to join our struggle and to learn not only from the “Comfort Women” Justice Movement, but also from a long legacy of enlightened human rights movements in Japan led by peoples colonized by Imperial Japan, including the Hisabetsu Buraku (“Untouchables”), Zainichi Korean, Taiwanese, Okinawan, and Ainu communities. We request that Mayor Yoshimura directly confront Japan’s imperial militaristic past and rectify the unresolved legacies of Imperial Japan’s wars of aggression and colonization. Furthermore, we request that he learn from how those human rights movements have evolved through their close ties to the disability justice, feminist, and LGBTQIA movements. We urge Mayor Yoshimura to listen to the proponents of those movements with humility and an open mind and to learn what it means to respect the dignity and human rights of women. We sincerely invite him to join hands with us for a future that protects and ensures the human rights of all women and girls.
English and Japanese versions of the statement can be downloaded from here.