GENEVA (6 August 2014) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Wednesday expressed profound regret that Japan has failed to pursue a comprehensive, impartial and lasting resolution of the issue of wartime sexual slavery, warning that the human rights of the victims, known as “comfort women”, continue to be violated decades after the end of the Second World War.
“During my visit to Japan in 2010, I appealed to the Government to provide effective redress to the victims of wartime sexual slavery,” the High Commissioner said. “Now, as my tenure in office comes to an end, it pains me to see that these courageous women, who have been fighting for their rights, are passing away one by one, without their rights restored and without receiving the reparation to which they are entitled.”
“This is not an issue relegated to history. It is a current issue, as human rights violations against these women continue to occur as long as their rights to justice and reparation are not realised,” she stressed.
Instead of justice, the High Commissioner said, the women are facing increasing denials and degrading remarks by public figures in Japan. A report issued by a Government-appointed study team on 20 June 2014, stated that “it was not possible to confirm that women were forcefully recruited.” Following the release of this report, a group in Tokyo publicly declared that “comfort women were not sex slaves but wartime prostitutes.”
“Such statements must cause tremendous agony to the women, but we have not seen any public rebuttal by the Government,” Pillay said.
Over the years, Japan has received recommendations from a number of UN independent experts, human rights treaty bodies and from the Human Rights Council under its Universal Periodic Review for it to take concrete measures to tackle the issue. Most recently, the UN Human Rights Committee, which oversees implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, called on Japan to take “immediate and effective legislative and administrative measures” to ensure that all allegations of sexual slavery are investigated and perpetrators prosecuted. It also called for access to justice and reparations for victims and their families, the disclosure of all evidence available, and education in the country surrounding the issue.
Pillay noted that Japan had signed the UN Declaration on the Prevention of Sexual Violence in Conflict last year and that it had offered strong support to the UK summit on sexual violence in conflict earlier this year
“I encourage Japan to pursue a comprehensive, impartial and lasting resolution of the wartime sexual slavery issue with the same vigour,” she added, noting the Office’s readiness to offer any necessary assistance.