House Wants Japan Apology on Sex Slaves
Tuesday, July 31, 2007; 1:15 AM
WASHINGTON -- The House passed a resolution Monday urging Japan to apologize for coercing thousands of women to work as sex slaves for its World War II military.
Though largely symbolic, the nonbinding resolution has caused unease in Japan and added tension to an otherwise strong alliance. Officials in Tokyo say their country's leaders, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, have apologized repeatedly for the Imperial Japanese Army's forcing of women to work in military brothels in the 1930s and 1940s.
The resolution's supporters, however, say Japan has never assumed responsibility fully for the treatment of the women.
Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., labeled as "nauseating" what he said were efforts by some in Japan "to distort and deny history and play a game of blame the victim."
"Inhumane deeds should be fully acknowledged," said Lantos, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "The world awaits a full reckoning of history from the Japanese government."
Abe told reporters in Tokyo on Tuesday: "The resolution is regrettable. I explained my views and the government's response on this matter during my visit to the U.S. in April."
The prime minister indicated, however, that he would formally apologize.
"The 20th century was a period when violations of human rights occurred. It is important to make the 21st century a brighter period for people worldwide," Abe said.
The House resolution, which has no companion in the Senate, urges Japan to "formally acknowledge, apologize and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner" for the suffering of so-called "comfort women."
Lawmakers want an apology similar to the one the U.S. government gave to Japanese-Americans forced into internment camps during World War II. That apology was approved by Congress and signed into law by President Reagan in 1988.
The resolution adds to recent woes for Abe, whose political party suffered a humiliating defeat in parliamentary elections over the weekend. He has refused to quit, despite calls for his resignation.
Abe caused anger throughout Asia, and among even supporters in Washington, in March when he said there was no evidence that the women had been coerced into working as prostitutes.
In Seoul, South Korea, six former sex slaves and more than a dozen of their supporters staged a rally Tuesday outside the Japanese Embassy, reiterating their demands for Tokyo's apology while welcoming the U.S. resolution.
"Peace can be realized when (Japan) sincerely repents for its past and apologizes," said Kil Won-ok, a former sex slave.
Historians say hundreds of thousands of women, mainly from Korea, China and the Philippines, were sent to wartime Japanese military brothels.
After decades of denial, the Japanese government acknowledged its role in wartime prostitution after a historian discovered documents showing government involvement. In 1993, the government issued a carefully worded official apology, but it was never approved by parliament. Japan has rejected most compensation claims, saying they were settled by postwar treaties.
Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.