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UN demands Japan prosecute over wartime 'comfort women'



A United Nations investigator yesterday called on the Japanese government to set up a war crimes tribunal to prosecute former soldiers and officials responsible for the forced prostitution of thousands of women during the Second World War.

In a report submitted to the UN Human Rights Commission, Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN's special rapporteur on violence against women, criticises Japan for failing to take legal responsibility for the so-called "comfort stations", where as many as 200,000 women were forced to serve as sexual slaves to Japanese troops. She recommends that the government compensate and apologise to the surviving "comfort women", rewrite school text-books to tell the truth about their suffering and disclose documents identifying the perpetrators of the policy.

"It is not certain that the government is revealing everything it knows," Dr Coomaraswamy told the Independent. "Japanese bureaucracy functions with such meticulous detail that it's not possible for the government not to have more precise information. Documents which point to individuals should be followed up, and the government should establish a tribunal to prosecute those responsible."

Between 100,000 and 200,000 comfort women, including Chinese, Koreans, and a handful of European internees, were confined in military brothels where they were forced to serve as many as 70 men a day. Imperial Army documents scrutinised by the UN team during visits to Tokyo, Seoul and Pyongyang record the opening hours of the brothels, and provisions for contraception.

The report comes as an embarrassment to the government, which is conducting a low-key campaign for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. During commemorations for the 50th anniversary of the war's end last year, the former Socialist Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama attempted to quell growing calls for compensation by unveiling the Asian Women's Fund, a non-governmental project which solicits donations from private Japanese companies and individuals. So far only 140m yen (pounds 875,000) of the 1bn yen target has been raised.

The fund has been denounced by comfort women's organisations as a fudge. "It is a clear statement denying any legal responsibility for the situation of these women," says Dr Coomaraswamy's report. "This is reflected in particular in the desire to raise funds from the private sector."

Dr Coomaraswamy, a Sri Lankan lawyer, said: "We sincerely hope that the Japanese government will at least compromise by meeting us half-way, and make some kind of gesture worthy of a superpower."