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Shiro Takahashi

【#400】Problematic Remark by UNESCO Official on Comfort Women

Shiro Takahashi / 2016.10.06 (Thu)

October 3, 2016

     On September 9, a meeting took place at the Korean YMCA in Japan in Tokyo’s Chiyoda ward aiming at the inscription of documents on comfort women for the wartime Japanese Imperial Army on the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Memory of the World Register. Ray Edmondson, an Australian engaging in the revision of Memory of the World Register inscription guidelines as requested by Japan and other countries, attended the meeting as a keynote speaker, leading us to doubt the fairness of screening for the inscription.

A judge participating in a game
     Organizing the meeting was a group of Japanese, Chinese, South Korean and other citizens’ organizations that jointly applied last May for the inscription of comfort women documents. Panel discussion participants at the meeting included representatives from the Women’s Active Museum on War and Peace in Japan which played a leading role in the joint application and the Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, as well as Shanghai Normal University Prof. Su Zhiliang who has spread an incredible claim that there were 200,000 Chinese comfort women.
     Edmondson has engaged in the UNESCO Memory of the World Program since 1996, writing the current inscription guidelines. After serving as a member of the International Advisory Committee deciding whether to inscribe specific nominations and the Register Subcommittee making recommendations to the advisory committee, he now participates in a review group to reform the program to improve the transparency of inscription procedures.
     Edmondson’s participation in the meeting of the applicants amounts to a judge’s participation in a bilateral game. In a question-and-answer session, Edmondson said the current guidelines instead of the revised ones under consideration will be applied for deciding whether to inscribe comfort women documents on the Memory of the World Register (Asahi Shimbun dated September 10). This is clearly an unfair and inappropriate remark against which the Japanese government should file a strong protest.

Cozy relations with applicants
     This is not the first that Edmondson participated in a meeting of inscription applicants. A photo has been published showing Edmondson sitting alongside with the same panelists at the third meeting (March 15-16 in Seoul) of the International Committee for Joint Nomination of the Documents on the Japanese Military ‘Comfort Women’ to the UNESCO International Memory of the World Register, which consists of the applicants. The key person who exerts great influences on the institutional reform, the International Advisory Committee and the Register Subcommittee feels no shame about publicizing his cozy relations with the applicants.
     The Japanese government has been looked down. Prof. Su told the Tokyo meeting that when he attended a meeting of the UNESCO International Advisory Committee in October last year as an observer, a committee official, explaining about the committee’s decision to refrain from accepting China’s application for the inscription of comfort women documents, said that even though the documents provided by China had no problem, it was better to file a joint application with other relevant countries hoping for the inscription.
     Unless such cozy relations between UNESCO officials and inscription applicants are corrected, the inscription of comfort women documents can be well expected. Clearly, Japan could follow in the wake of last October’s UNESCO decision to inscribe so-called Nanjing Massacre documents on the Memory of the World Register. The Japanese government should immediately protest the inappropriate remark by Edmondson. While the Register Subcommittee is scheduled to meet in January 2017 to recommend whether comfort women documents should be inscribed on the register, the Japanese government should ask UNESCO to postpone the subcommittee meeting until the institutional reform and use new guidelines for screening the application for the inscription of comfort women documents. Only three months are left before the scheduled meeting. The government should hurry up.

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