By NORIMITSU ONISHI
Published: August 1, 2007
TOKYO, Wednesday, Aug. 1 — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed some irritation on Tuesday at the resolution approved by the House of Representatives in Washington that calls on Japan to acknowledge its wartime sex slavery. His reaction indicated strongly that the Japanese government would not offer surviving victims an official apology.
“The resolution’s approval was regrettable,” said Mr. Abe, who caused a furor in Asia and the United States in March by denying that the Japanese military had directly coerced women into sex slavery in World War II.
News of the approval, which had been expected, came as Mr. Abe faced more calls to resign as prime minister after the crushing defeat of his governing Liberal Democratic Party in the election on Sunday for the upper house of Parliament.
On Wednesday morning, Norihiko Akagi, the scandal-ridden agriculture minister, resigned, admitting that he had contributed to Mr. Abe’s loss on Sunday.
Asked whether he would comply with the House resolution’s demand for an official apology, Mr. Abe said: “The 20th century was an era in which human rights were violated. I would like to make the 21st century into an era with no human rights violations.”
On Monday, the House unanimously passed the nonbinding resolution strongly urging the Japanese government to “formally acknowledge” and “apologize” for its military’s “coercion of women into sexual slavery.” Japan had lobbied hard against the resolution in Washington, warning that it could harm relations.
Mr. Abe has expressed sympathy for the former sex slaves. But he has consistently refused to acknowledge the military’s role in directly coercing women into sex slavery despite historical evidence and the testimony of many of the women.
Some of the former sex slaves, known euphemistically as “comfort women” in Japan, and their advocates welcomed the resolution. But they expressed anger at Mr. Abe’s response.
“Abe denies that they were the ones who violated the women,” said Jan Ruff O’Herne, 84, a Dutch woman who was forced into sex slavery in Indonesia. “I didn’t expect anything better from him than that.”
“But this resolution puts enormous pressure on the Japanese government,” Ms. Ruff said by phone from her home in Adelaide, Australia. “I’m still hoping that something will happen because the women are getting old, and we deserve a proper apology.”
Gil Won-ok, 78, a South Korean who was forced into sex slavery in northeast China, said from Seoul, “Truth survives and lies never win.”
Parliament has never endorsed an official apology and acknowledgment of its sex slavery, the central demand in the House resolution, though past prime ministers have issued letters of apology to some former sex slaves.
This spring, Mr. Abe rejected any demand for an apology. But since then, he has avoided discussing the issue in detail. He has repeated that many human rights violations occurred in the last century, angering former sex slaves and their supporters who say his comments were meant to play down Japan’s crimes.
“Abe really does not know his history,” said Nelia Sancho, leader of Lolas Kampanyera, a group supporting former sex slaves in Manila. “In order to create a world without human rights violations, each state has to learn from its past mistakes and, most importantly, it has to redress its past violations. Until that is done, the 21st century will not become an era with no human rights violations.”