Japan, Seeking Revision of Report on Wartime Brothels, Is Rebuffed Written by MARTIN FACKLEROCT
The Japanese government has asked for the partial retraction of a nearly two-decade-old United Nations report on Korean and other women forced to work in Japanese military brothels during World War II, but the report's author has refused the request, a Japanese government spokesman said on Thursday.
The decision to challenge parts of the report appears to be part of a campaign set in motion by influential conservatives to try to call into question the internationally accepted view that the women, known euphemistically in Japan as "comfort women," were forced to provide sex to Japanese soldiers. While the government's announcement might play well with the conservatives who form the political base for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, an outspoken nationalist, South Korea denounced Japan's move.
However hard the Japanese government tries to distort the true nature of the comfort women issue and play down or hide the past wrongdoings, it will never be able to whitewash history," Noh Kwang-il, spokesman for the South Korean Foreign Ministry, said Thursday.
The Japanese spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, the chief cabinet secretary, said his government had sent a top diplomat to make the request personally to Radhika Coomaraswamy, a former United Nations special rapporteur on violence against women. Ms. Coomaraswamy, a Sri Lankan lawyer, wrote the 1996 report that called on Japan to apologize and pay compensation to the women.
Mr. Suga did not specify exactly which part of the report his government had asked to be retracted.
Calls by right-wing politicians and activists to challenge the women's stories have increased sharply since August, when a major liberal newspaper, the Asahi Shimbun, printed a front-page retraction of several articles it published on the issue in the 1980s and 1990s. Those were based on the testimony of a former Japanese soldier, Seiji Yoshida, who said he had helped kidnap Korean women to work in the brothels.
Mr. Yoshida's specific claims were later discredited by scholars, but conservatives have since seized on the newspaper's retraction to assert that the sex slaves issue itself is a fabrication, and that the women were common prostitutes who worked in the brothels of their own accord.
Many mainstream Japanese scholars and most non-Japanese researchers reject those claims, saying Mr. Yoshida's testimony was never a major piece of historical evidence that women were coerced. They cite other evidence, mainly the testimonies of many of the women, who in the 1990s broke decades of silence.
Based largely on those testimonies, scholars have concluded that tens of thousands of mostly Asian but also Dutch women worked in Japanese wartime brothels, many against their will. Japanese conservatives dispute that, calling the women's testimony biased and unreliable, and pointing to a lack of documentary evidence to corroborate their accounts. (Advocates of the women point out that the Japanese military burned most of its records in the weeks after defeat for fear of prosecution for war crimes by the victorious Allies.)
In an interview published this month with a top Japanese conservative newspaper, the Yomiuri Shimbun, Ms. Coomaraswamy said that the Asahi's retraction did not convince her of a need to amend the United Nations report. She was quoted as saying that the report was based mostly on the testimonies of "a large number of 'comfort women.' " She was also quoted as saying that the testimony of Mr. Yoshida, which was cited in her United Nations report, did not play a big role in its conclusions.
She declined to comment further on Thursday.
Mr. Suga did not say if the Japanese government would take additional steps following her rejection of its request. Japan's Kyodo News agency said the Japanese diplomat, Kuni Sato, Japan's ambassador in charge of human rights issues, met with Ms. Coomaraswamy on Tuesday in New York to make the request.
Mr. Abe has argued in the past that Japan's wartime history has been depicted too negatively, and his government in February ordered an investigation into how Japan's landmark 1993 apology to the women was drawn up. The government later said it would uphold the document.