Wednesday, April 25, 2007

DEFENDING THE HUMAN RIGHTS OF COMFORT WOMEN SURVIVORS


SPEECH OF HON. EDOLPHUS TOWNS OF NEW YORK
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
THURSDAY, APRIL 26, 2007

Mr. FOSSELLA. Madame Speaker, today, Washington welcomes Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, a country that has been our good and trusted ally in Asia. The Prime Minister's visit promises to further cement this important and expanding U.S.-Japan relationship.

Our strong ties depend upon our shared values of democracy and human rights or as his Foreign Minister notes, a “values oriented diplomacy.” Unfortunately, the rhetoric does not consistently match Tokyo's actions towards its neighbors and allies. This is dramatically true in regard to the Comfort Women tragedy where possibly as many as 200,000 women and girls were pressed into sexual servitude for the Imperial Armed forces of Japan.

My colleague Rep. Michael Honda is the leader on this issue and introduced on January 31,2007, H.Res.121, legislation that calls upon Japan to “acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal statement for Imperial Japan's Armed Force's maintenance of a system of sexual slavery, presently known to the world as "Comfort Women," during its colonial and wartime occupation of Asia and the Pacific Islands.”

On February 15, 2007, Rep. Eni Faleomavaega, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and the Global Environment, held a moving hearing with three survivors of this abusive Imperial Japanese government sanctioned and maintained system. It was clear from their testimony that these women needed, but had not received an adequate apology for their suffering and humiliation from the Government of Japan.

Clearly their experience is neither new nor has this sort of violence against women stopped. The topic of sex slavery is not merely a historical footnote, but has relevance to today's world where human trafficking is exploding and rape is a feature of ethnic conflict. Thus, it should come as no surprise that H.Res.121 has substantial bi-partisan support, with nearly 100 cosponsors.

To date, a careful analysis of the Japanese political process shows that Japan has never provided an official governmental apology to the Comfort Women. This is incredible. Do the Japanese think we do not understand their political system, nor care to?

It is also a concern of Congress that Tokyo's apparent insensitivity, it's surprising and insistent focus on narrow definitions and self-seeking legalisms convincing to no one but a few, even in Japan, is harming U.S. relationships in Asia and adding instability to an already volatile region.

An unequivocal admission of past wrongdoing toward the Comfort Women would remove an outstanding moral issue weakening the ties between Japan and major U.S. allies in the region. But more important, it would demonstrate Japan's commitment to human rights, women's rights, and underscore its very new efforts to combat human trafficking. Officially apologizing to the surviving Comfort Women is “value oriented diplomacy.”

Getting history right and taking formal responsibility for historical misdeeds are the marks of a great nation. An apology from Japan with respect to the Comfort Women would enhance Japan's over 60-year history of constructive and responsible membership in the today's world community and our alliance. Madame Speaker, for all these reasons, I hope that my colleagues will join in co-sponsoring H.Res.121 to signal that the U.S. is very concerned about this important request for social justice and human dignity from Japan.

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