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Shiro Takahashi

【#478(Special)】Japan Working as One Prevents UNESCO’s Comfort Women Inscription

Shiro Takahashi / 2017.11.02 (Thu)

October 30, 2017

     The International Advisory Committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization at its meeting in October in Paris decided to shelve the inscription of documents on comfort women for the wartime Japanese Imperial Army on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register as nominated jointly by private sector groups in eight countries including Japan, China and South Korea. UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova has made a final decision on the IAC recommendation against the inscription. The IAC decision came in response to a resolution the UNESCO executive committee unanimously adopted on October 18 urging the director-general and IAC members to avoid political tensions over the Memory of the World Register program. It may have been difficult for the director-general to reverse the IAC decision.

Japan-led institutional reform
     The IAC decision resulted from a Japan-led institutional reform of the Memory of the World Register program. Two years ago, the IAC recommended the UNESCO director-general to inscribe so-called Nanjing Massacre documents on the register, as advised by its Register Subcommittee, leading to a political tension over the program. In order not to repeat such a mess-up, the IAC chair has taken the initiative to reform the Memory of the World Register program. As a result, the UNESCO executive committee decided to subject “political” nominations to talks between relevant parties from the viewpoint that a framework to protect the program from political abuse is necessary.
     On August 23, a Japanese conservative organization, which has nominated “Documentation on ‘Comfort Women’ and Japanese Army Discipline” to be inscribed on the Memory of the World Register, sent the UNESCO secretariat an open letter requesting talks with the joint nominators of “Voices of the ‘Comfort Women’.” The two nominations include the same documents from the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. On October 19, 100 Japanese scholars sent UNESCO a statement opposing the inscription of the documents proposed by the joint nominators, requesting the IAC to refrain from screening the joint nomination and provide opportunities for talks between relevant parties.
     The latest IAC decision represents an epoch-making achievement of Japan’s government-private initiative by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Japanese National Commission for UNESCO, private organizations and scholars.

Rebut criticisms at the U.N. Human Rights Council
     On November 14, the U.N. Human Rights Council will hold a meeting of a working group on Japan’s human rights conditions, providing national representatives with opportunities to make remarks on the matter. A basic material for the deliberation reportedly alleges the comfort women as sex slaves, urging Japan to admit its legal responsibility and indict and punish perpetrators. The Japanese government should make fact-based rebuttal against such unjustifiable criticism.
     The Japanese government should also file a protest against the 2015 UNESCO decision to inscribe the Nanjing Massacre documents on the Memory of the World register, based on the 4.8 Removal from the Register provision in the General Guidelines to Safeguard Documentary Heritage.

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