"comfort women" and the Asian Women's Fund

Just in case your week has been a little too carefree so far, here’s a brief report I did for school on the “comfort women” enslaved by Japan during WWII. I have nothing to say other than, if there is a hell, the people responsible for this belong there.

Japan’s Asian Women’s Fund: Reparations to the “Comfort Women”

Context & Injury:
Beginning around 1940, Japan found its WWII soldiers alarmingly prone to commit rape and contract STDs, so it purposefully undertook a campaign to establish many additional “comfort stations” (military-affiliated brothels) throughout the Asia/Pacific region. These brothels were typically houses of rape, torture, and enslavement. “Comfort women” (the enslaved prostitutes) were often misled into thinking they were to be employed as nurses or other service personnel. Sometimes they were outright kidnapped. At the comfort stations, they endured many (10-30) daily rapes, violence at the hands of soldiers and others, and a lack of medical treatment and even food.


There were as many as 200,000 comfort women, taken from Korea, China, the Dutch East Indies, Taiwan, Malaysia, Burma and the Philippines, and stationed wherever the Japanese came to occupy Asia during WWII. Only about 25% survived their servitude, with the primary causes of death being both illness and murder.  Unfortunately, it has been difficult for interested parties to generate accurate statistics about the comfort women.

The comfort women were raped by enlisted and civilian men affiliated with the Japanese  military. Some brothels were run by civilians who were complicit in the wrongdoing.

Responsible Parties:
While Japanese military and government officials may not have themselves have patronized the comfort stations, they are responsible insofar they developed and approved the plan to establish them in a grossly self-defeating attempt to curb the incidences of rape and STDs.

Nature of Reparations Sought & Given:

Beginning in 1991, a small group of former comfort women began to come forward to tell their stories and file their grievances in court. Evidence supporting the women’s stories began to emerge. The relatively few remaining living former comfort women sought for the Japanese government officially to accept responsibility, apologize and offer compensation, but it was loath to do any of these things.

Agent/Entity Making Reparation:

Ultimately, the issue was handled by an agency called the Asian Women’s Fund, which processed the claims of former comfort women between 1995 and 2007.

The Asian Women’s Fund was very controversial and enjoyed only limited success. Some comfort house deniers and apologists took issue with the AWF’s attempt to provide any semblance of an apology or proper compensation to the former comfort women. On the other hand, many were unhappy that the apology was not made in an official enough capacity, and that much of the AWF’s funding came from private charitable donations instead of directly from the state. Approximately half of the living former comfort women refused to participate in the AWF program. Some of those who were citizens of countries other than Japan were eligible to receive compensation from their local governments instead of from the AWF.

Legal Issues:
Japan’s responses to the legal issues surrounding the comfort women really added insult to injury. Three counterarguments to demands for reparations were offered. First, Japan claimed that the treaties it signed around the ending of the war exhausted its obligations to the comfort women. This is not an acceptable argument because the crimes against humanity of enslavement, rape and torture are taken so seriously by international customary law that treaty provisions dismissing them would be void. Additionally, many of the women were not Japanese and were therefore not even loosely a party to the treaties (which were really amongst states and not private individuals anyway). Second, Japan argued that the passage of time imposed a de facto statute of limitations on the reparations. This too is an unacceptable argument, because Japan was actually in a much better to position to offer sufficient reparations after the war had been long over. Furthermore, a major reason it took so long to uncover the crimes was because Japan was keeping evidence from the public, so it would be a miscarriage of justice to absolve it from duties of reparation as a reward. Third, Japan argued that the sheer number of victims and claims was so prohibitive that a full-scale reparations process would not be possible. This is false on its face, for Germany was able to do so on even a larger scale, and anyway a wrongdoing party should not be able to justify its way into immunity by harming additional victims.

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