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Yoichi Shimada

【#262】Japanese Foreign Ministry’s Distorted Explanations on Sex Slaves

Yoichi Shimada / 2014.09.03 (Wed)

September 1, 2014

     When studying the changing concept of slaves under international law in the Oxford Handbook of the History of International Law (Oxford University Press), I found an opinion of the Japanese Foreign Ministry that I had expected as stupid. The opinion is given in a footnote for a description in a section titled “Slavers.” The description says, "It should be noted however that it is difficult not only to determine when the slave trade and enslavement became a violation of customary international law..." The footnote cites the opinion made by the Japanese government at the United Nations as an example of a state representative's denial of the existence of customary international law. It says, "Confronting enslavement and sexual slavery during Second World War accusations, Japan has argued that there was no customary law against slavery then." What has the Foreign Ministry emphasized?

Deviation from key point expanded misunderstanding
     Comfort stations were prostitution facilities, while Japanese military never coercively recruited women and made them sex slaves. This is the only point Japan should make to the international community. Nevertheless, the ministry's past arguments indicate it shelved the most important point by using the phrase saying "irrespective of arguments on whether comfort stations were designed for prostitution or not." The ministry also strayed into a nonsense assumption by noting "even if the so-called comfort women system amounts to a slavery system..." It then argued that since Japan was not party to the 1926 Slavery Convention, the existence of a slavery system for Japan would not necessarily constitute Japan's violation of the convention.
     The ministry also argued that even if Japan were a party to the convention that provides for a nonbinding requirement for the parties to abolish slavery systems as early as possible, the existence of any slavery system would not immediately constitute a violation of the convention. Such argument is surprisingly absurd.
     Such complicated arguments might have led many people to view Japan as receptive of slavery systems and interpret comfort women as sex slaves. Instead of making the most important argument, the ministry emphasized what it should not have emphasized, eventually injuring Japan's reputations. Such action was extremely stupid.

Questioning advisability of increasing public relations spending
     The off-the-point arguments by the Foreign Ministry have led the authoritative Oxford handbook consulted by international law students throughout the world to cite Japan as a country attempting to justify the history of enslavement or sex slaves with technical law arguments.
     The Foreign Ministry reportedly plans to request additional 50 billion yen in its budget request for a new public relations program to establish "Japan Houses" in major overseas cities to promote the international community's correct understanding of Japanese positions on history. If the ministry increases public relations spending for the program without changing its attitude, however, it may further expand misunderstanding on Japan. Unless the ministry switches to basing arguments on facts, its public relations spending should be reduced, rather than increased. Instead of oral promises, actions are required for fighting. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should take an action-for-action approach in dealing with the Foreign Ministry as well as North Korea.
Yoichi Shimada is Planning Committee Member, Japan Institute for National Fundamentals, and Professor at Fukui Prefectural University.