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Shiro Takahashi

【#391(Special)】Questionable “Comfort Women” Records Presented for UNESCO Inscription

Shiro Takahashi / 2016.08.15 (Mon)

August 5, 2016

     Excerpts of a joint application for the inscription of documents on comfort women for the wartime Japanese Imperial Army on the UNESCO Memory of the World list were released on a website on August 3. The applicants are the International Solidarity Committee comprising 14 civic groups in eight countries and regions, and the British Imperial War Museum.

Japanese groups lead application
     Subject to the application are 2,744 documents including 1,449 records such as testimonies by former comfort women, their paintings and medical treatment records. They also include 732 documents on activities to resolve the comfort women problem, such as lawsuit documents on the Women's International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan's Military Sexual Slavery, a mock trial held in Tokyo in 2000, and records on Wednesday demonstrations launched in Seoul in 1992 and students’ petition postcards.
     Also subject to the application are 560 official documents on comfort women. Most remarkably, China has substantially reduced the number of documents for the application from the previous application in consideration of various criticisms. In line with a Japan-South Korea governmental agreement to resolve the comfort women issue late last year, the South Korean government has refrained from leading the joint application. Instead, South Korean civic groups including the Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan lead the application. In place of the Chinese and South Korean governments, two Japanese civic groups -- the Women’s Active Museum on War and Peace and Japan's War Responsibility Data Center -- have made a major role in filing the application. As a result, the documents center on Japanese ones.

Application covers documents on Women's International War Crimes Tribunal
     Basic problems regarding the documents for the application are as follows: The first is whether documents on the Women's International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan's Military Sexual Slavery ruling Emperor Hirohito (Showa) and Japan as guilty of crime against humanity in the absence of defense lawyers, and on lower Japanese court rulings are suitable for inscription on the UNESCO Memory of the World list.
     The second is whether former comfort women’s dictated remarks that have not been objectively verified and documents on pending activities of which any valuation has not been established are suitable for the inscription on the list.
    Thirdly, the application by politically biased civic groups and researchers opposing the Japan-South Korea agreement supported by most of former South Korean comfort women is problematic from the viewpoint of the neutrality of intentions for an application cited for a comprehensive reform of the UNESCO Memory of the World system.
     Fourth, while the global significance of the Women's International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan's Military Sexual Slavery and “girl of peace statues” (comfort woman statues) are emphasized in the application, allegations such as “200,000 comfort women,” “the military’s coercive recruitment” and “sex slavery” cited for the significance run counter to historical facts. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe clearly rebutted these allegations in parliamentary remarks.
     Fifth, while the regional significance of “girl of peace statues” is emphasized in the application, these statues have divided relevant regional communities and caused needless confusion.
     The documents subject to the application may also include a former comfort woman’s painting depicting Emperor Showa as being tied down to a tree, blindfolded and surrounded by three guns, which prompted the Women's International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan's Military Sexual Slavery to be held, as well as a painting of comfort women being burned, which runs counter to historical facts but became a motif for Kwihyang, a film that had a total attendance of 3.59 million spectators in South Korea. Cool deliberations are required on the historical value of these paintings.
     Next January, the UNESCO secretariat’s registration subcommittee will decide whether or not to recommend the International Advisory Committee of UNESCO's Memory of the World Program to accept the application. Japan will have to move quickly to prevent the application from being endorsed as is the case with the Nanjing Massacre documents that were accepted for the list last November.

Shiro Takahashi is Director, Japan Institute for National Fundamentals, and Special Professor at Meisei University