Petition for urgent action on justice for victims of Japanese military sexual slavery in Timor-Leste during WWII handed over to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
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"Petition for urgent action to realize justice for the victims of Japanese military sexual slavery in Timor-Leste during WWII" handed over to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Japan East Timor Coalition

February 22, 2013

On February 22, the Japan East Timor Coalition handed over its petition on the so-called "comfort women" issue in Timor-Leste to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan in Tokyo. The petition is supported by 44 Japanese organizations, 367 individuals in Japan, 14 overseas organizations and 25 individuals abroad. The total number of supporters was 450, a slightly higher than that of last year. We thank those supporters.

The second paragraph was a surprise for us, because so far the Japanese government had never tried to deny that there were "victims" of the military sexual slavery in Timor-Leste. But this time, it seems that the denial is making a come-back.

(We received emails of support even after the deadline. We therefore add 4 Japanese organizations and 20 individuals and 1 overseas organization. The total number thus becomes 475.)

The hand over of a petition on the military sexual slavery in war-time East Timor is now an annual event, and it usually takes place around February 20, the day of the Japanese invasion of the Timor island in 1942.
This year's petition picked up the report that the representative of Timor-Leste at the Universal Periodic Review process of the UN Human Rights Council on the situation of human rights in Japan last November referred to "the victims of atrocities committed in the past" and it encouraged Japan to promote dialogue with the international community for mutual understanding which may entail "a direct and genuine communication with the survivors of the past atrocities."

During the conversation with officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on February 22, when we handed the petition to them, we requested that Japan take some kind of action as a response to this Timor-Leste's statement. But the response of the officials was passive. It can be summarized as the following:

The above-mentioned statement of Timor-Leste only generally referred to victims and not particularly to victims in Timor-Leste. We don't judge whether "the victims" mentioned in the statement in a general way included victims in Timor-Leste in particular. We don't know whether the government of Timor-Leste wants to raise this issue seriously. If they are serious, they would raise this issue in bilateral relations. As we understand, the government of Timor-Leste does not have a policy to raise this issue (with Japan).
Regarding the facts of the "comfort stations" in war-time East Timor, the government of Japan could not find that there were violations or damages caused by them, although it did find some reference to the existence of comfort women in Timor-Leste when it did its best in researching the history (before 1993).

The governments of Timor-Leste and Japan both agree to the "forward-looking policy".

The first paragraph of the Foreign Affairs ministry's view means that the Japanese government will not take any action until the Timor-Leste government demands something. Such a statement at a multilateral occasion does not indicate that they are serious enough.
We pointed out that actually the Timor-Leste's reference in its statement cannot be regarded as "general" as the Japanese governments interprets. To quote the part more widely, the statement says:
"In reciprocity, making reference to the concerns expressed by the Human Rights Committee regarding the victims of the atrocities committed in the past, we encourage Japan to continue to its efforts to promote dialogue with the international community to reach mutual understanding, which may entail a direct and genuine communication with the survivors of the past atrocities."
Here, "the concerns expressed by the HRC" exclusively means victims of the "comfort women" system, and therefore it should be interpreted as such. And we also pointed out that "In reciprocity" means the statement was suggesting the government of Japan specifically to do what follows it.

The second paragraph was a surprise for us, because so far the Japanese government had never tried to deny that there were "victims" of the military sexual slavery in Timor-Leste. But this time, it seems that the denial is making a come-back. It's a logic that those "poor" women were recruited by a private enterprise and were kept "commercially" for Japanese soldiers, therefore, the military as an institution is not responsible. Also the logic denies "the forcible nature" of the system because there are no official records that describe that Japanese military personnel forcibly took those women away like abduction. In the past communication with the Foreign Ministry, this kind of logic never came up, possibly because they knew that the "research" the government did before 1993 was very limited in its scope and most importantly because the Kono statement of 1993 already recognized the military's involvement in the sexual slavery. The come back of this logic seems to represent the Abe administration's nationalist agenda of denial of the past atrocities.
We showed a book that collected testimonies of victims and eye-witnesses and written records on the "comfort women" during the war in Timor-Leste to them. They said they were aware of this book.
Overall, the response was stiff, perhaps stiffer than before. But we will continue efforts.

Thank you.
Akihisa Matsuno
Japan East Timor Coalition

see also

Petition to the Governments of Japan and Timor-Leste
For Timor-Leste Victims of the Japanese Military's Sexual Slavery System
Restore Their Honor, Give Them Their Rights!

February 20, 2008
(Sixty-six years from the day of the Japanese invasion of Timor)

We are citizens asking that a thorough investigation be carried out of the "sexual slavery system" that existed throughout Timor-Leste during the Japanese military occupation in World War II and that the victims be redressed.

On February 20, 1942 the Japanese Army invaded the then neutral territory of Portuguese Timor and then occupied it for some three and a half years. During that time the Japanese Army ordered the liurai (traditional chiefs) and village chiefs to provide women, and it built "comfort stations" in areas throughout the territory where its troops were stationed. Liurai who did not obey these orders were executed, and the families or neighbors of the women who tried to shelter them were brutalized. Women were conscripted regardless of the their age; even premenstrual girls were forced to become "comfort women".

The damage from this sexual violence did not end with the occupation. After the troops left, some women were left by their husbands, others suffered from infertility, others were left with the offspring of Japanese men, while others were discriminated against by their communities. But after the war under Portuguese, and then Indonesian rule, this serious crime was shrouded in historical obscurity and the victims left to their fate. No one so much as even apologized to the women: not the Japanese Government, which is responsible for the conduct of its military, not the Portuguese Government, which failed to protect the women from the Japanese military, not the Timorese who handed the victims over to the Japanese, and not those who scorned and abused them after the war.

However the women's suffering has come to light through research jointly carried out by Japanese and Timor-Leste organizations since 2000, Sixteen women who testified in the course of this research on the suffering they themselves endured are requesting an apology and compensation from the Japanese Government. Every year Japanese citizens' groups have met with officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to convey the women's request to the Japanese Government. But the Japanese Government, on the grounds that it has had "no request from the Timor-Leste Government", has to date taken no steps whatsoever, merely saying that when diplomatic relations were established with the newly independent state that both countries agreed to pursue "future-oriented relations".

The victims are now old and have little time left. The year before last year Esmeralda Boe passed away, and last year, Marta Abu Bere and Clementina Cardoso. With this in mind, we submit the following request to the Government of Japan and the Government of Timor-Leste to restore the honor of the victims and give them their rights.

- The fact that there has been "no request from the Timor-Leste Government" is no excuse. This is a matter in which the Japanese Government should take it upon itself to apologize and compensate for the criminal actions of its own military.

- The Japanese Government should without delay mobilize all the available data and acknowledge the damage. The Japanese Government should formally apologize without delay to restore the dignity of the victims.

- The Japanese Government should open discussions with the new government in Timor Leste, the victims, and relevant organizations to consider means of compensating the victims.

- Some Timorese fear that any reference to Japan's wartime responsibility would jeopardize Japan's economic assistance to Timor Leste. Japan's economic power intimidates tiny Timor-Leste, and the Japanese Government should clearly state that development assistance will not be linked to the issue of wartime compensation.

- The Government of Timor-Leste has the duty to uphold the rights of its citizens vis-a-vis other countries. Timor Leste is a sovereign independent nation. After the war the Japanese Government paid official compensation to the Asian victim countries, including Indonesia. The new government of Timor-Leste should promptly hold discussions with the war victims and related organizations and open negotiations with the Japanese Government.

The charges made over the last 18 years by "comfort women" victims in the countries of Asia have given rise to a social movement throughout the region and moved public opinion worldwide. Last year resolutions on the "comfort women" issue were adopted in the U.S. House of Representatives (July 31), the Dutch Second Chamber (November 21), the Canadian House of Commons (November 28), and the European Parliament (December 13), calling for a change in the Japanese Government's policy on the issue. We earnestly request that the Government of Japan and the Government of Timor-Leste take sincere consideration of these developments and take the decision to address the issue in a just manner.

Japan East Timor Coalition - Sapporo, Sendai, Tokyo, Shinshu, Nagoya, Osaka, Okayama, Shimonoseki, Oita, Nagasaki

Japan Catholic Council for Justice and Peace

East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN), USA

(list of signers to come)




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