Japan comfort women sue PH government at U.N. body

Having exhausted all channels, including a suit at the Supreme Court, Filipino women raped and assaulted by Japanese soldiers in World War II run to the United Nations

Lian Buan

Published: 6:35 PM November 30, 2019

Updated: 7:30 PM November 30, 2019

OFF TO THE U.N. Failing to get redress from the Philippine government, including the Supreme Court, the Malaya Lolas are running to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. File photo by Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – "These aging group of the victims are continuing to die one by one."

Now in their twilight years, Filipinos used as comfort women by Japanese soldiers during the World War II have sued the Philippine government at the United Nations (UN), seeking to compel the State to pay compensation.

In a communication sent to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women on November 25, the comfort women, collectively known as the "Malaya Lolas (Free Grandmothers)," want the international body to "urge" the Philippines to "provide full and effective redress and reparation, including compensation, satisfaction, official apologies and rehabilitative services."

"The author-victims were detained in the Red House (in Pampanga) for between one day and three weeks and subjected to repeated instances of rape, other forms of sexual violence, torture as well as inhumane conditions of detention," said the communication, referring to the accusation of war and sexual crimes against Japanese soldiers.

What can the U.N do?

Aided by Philippine group Center for International Law (CenterLaw) and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, the Malaya Lolas are invoking the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), a treaty that establishes complaint and inquiry mechanisms into violation of women rights.

As a party State to the treaty, the Philippines agreed to "give due consideration to the views of the Committee." The Philippines also has the duty to inform the committee of actions taken.

In the 38-page communication, the Malaya Lolas detailed how they have exhausted all official channels to seek compensation, including requests for assistance from the Department of Justice, Department of Foreign Affairs and the Office of the Solicitor General to file claims against the Japanese military.

"Unfortunately, these officials similarly dismissed the requests and held that the individual claims of the author-victims for reparations had been fully waived under the San Francisco Peace Treaty and, in any case, already compensated by the Asian Women’s Fund," said the communication.

It was referring to the 1951 San Francisco Peace Agreement between Japan and the Philppines, a treaty that waives reparation claims. "No negotiations were made regarding the victims of the female wartime slavery system and, as such, no compensation was provided," the communication said.

The Asian Women's Fund, on the other hand, was established in 1995, and branded as an "atonement" project of Japan. The communication said this allowed Japan" to evade legal responsibility and raise atonement payments through private donations and not as state-sanctioned compensation."

"Many survivors, including the author-victims in the present case, rejected the award of compensation through the AWF because it was not accompanied by Japanese assumption of legal responsibility," said the communication.

In 2010, the CenterLaw represented the Malaya Lolas in a petition before the Supreme Court that sought to seek the government to compel Japan to pay compensation, but it lost. The High Court upheld the prerogative powers of the executive government.

Violation of obligations

For failing to assist the Malaya Lolas, the communication accuses the Philippine government of violating its obligations to the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women.

"It is worth noting, so said the Committee, that the issue gives rise to serious violations that remains to be a continuing one as some sexual slavery hostages have died without even obtaining an official unequivocal recognition of responsibility by the State party for the serious human rights violations that they suffered, and these aging group of the victims are continuing to die one by one," said the communication.

The communication also seeks to compel the Philippine government to "adequately integrate the issue of 'comfort women' in textbooks and ensure that historical facts are objectively presented to students and the public at large." – Rappler.com