Speech delivered at the Japan Conference on Post-War Compensation on Dec. 10, 1992

By Phil Perez Aranguren

In the early 1990s, a Korean newspaper reported that student records found in an elementary school in Korea revealed that, in 1944, school girls aged twelve to fourteen were drafted into a “voluntary body corps” by former Japanese colonial teachers through deception and even threats.[1] This event sparked a series of debates about the role of the Japanese government in the so-called recruitment of military comfort women, women forced into sex slavery during the Second World War. In December 1992, the International Public Hearing on Post-war Compensation by Japan was held in Tokyo, followed by a seminar as a way to push the issue forward at the United Nations.[2]

It was in this setting that John Peters Humphrey gave this speech where he uses the Statute of the International Court of Justice, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as other resolutions and protocols by the United Nations, to justify compensation for former Korean military comfort women and prisoners of war. He also accuses the Japanese government of preventing these questions from being brought forward to the United Nations’ Human Rights Commission. The issue of comfort women continues to this day and affects the relationship between Japan and South Korea, not to mention that women were recruited in many of the other former colonies, like the Philippine and Taiwan.

“Military comfort women” were women forced to provide sexual services to Japanese military personnel in the “comfort stations” of the Japanese Imperial Army. During World War II, Japanese authorities systematically orchestrated the country’s bureaucratic forces—its government officials, armed forces, military police, and police—to conscript into “sex servitude” poor and impoverished women through deception, abduction, and violence. Some historical documents estimate the total figure of military sexual slaves at about 300,000 women and girls.[3] Because a large number of records were destroyed after Japan’s surrender in 1945, the origin of Military Comfort Stations is relatively unknown but recent discoveries suggest that the first Japanese military brothels for the exclusive of troops and officers were established in Shanghai in 1932.[4]

At the time it was given, the speech was an additional voice (among many) calling for action from the Japanese government as well as for the United Nations to hear cases brought by the women in question. Using the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Humphrey argued that Japan was bound to the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As such, he refers to Articles 1,3,4, and 5  to show how the Japanese government violated these rights with its recruitment of military comfort women. With further investigation, one can even find violations of Japanese law:

A Korean couple[…] agreed to take on the job of gathering women and girls and recruited 20 Koreans. With the payment of 300-1000 […] they believed that they bought these girls and […] as far as the couple was concerned, that they had control over the women and girls. According to information given by the women and girls, at the time of recruitment, twelve of the twenty recruits were under 21 years of age — one was 17, three were 18, seven were 19, one was 20, and eight were 23 or older. If this information is correct, it would seem to be clear that the conditions stipulated by the Police Bureau in 1938 for recruitment in Japan were ignored.[5]

It wasn’t until December 2015 that Japan and South Korea came to a “breakthrough agreement to ‘irreversibly’ end a controversy over Korean comfort women” after two official apologies by the Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa in 1992 and 1993.[6] However, the debate continues as the Deputy foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama denied the existence of documents that prove the coercion of women by the Japanese army in a statement given during a session in Geneva of the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.[7]

Despite some progress since John Peters Humphrey gave his speech in 1992, the debate not only continues between Japan and Korea but also with Taiwan, China, and the Philippines. This speech helps us to understand how the Universal Declaration can be used at the international level, within limits. Humphrey explains that the Universal Declaration does not create a “machinery for its international implementation” but notes that the U.N. Covenant on Civil and Political Rights does as ratifying states need to report progress made in promoting the respect for human rights.

[1] Hyunah Yang, “Remembering the Korean Military Comfort Women,” Dangerous Women: Gender and Korean Nationalism. New York: Routledge, 1998. 124

[2] George Hicks, The Comfort Women: Japan’s Brutal Regime of Enforced Prostitution in the Second World War, W. W. Norton & Company, 1997. 254

[3] Taipei Women’s Rescue Foundation. 2011. Comfort Women. Accessed February 24, 2016. http://www.twrf.org.tw/eng/p3-service.asp?Class1=aBTWaB36&PKey=aBUIaB31aBNLaB31.

[4] Yuki Tanaka. Japan’s Comfort Women. London: Routledge, 2001. 8

[5] Asian’s women fund, The “Comfort Women” Issue and the Asian’s Women Fund, 7

[6] Kevin Kim, “Japan and South Korea agree WW2 ‘comfort women’ deal,” BBC, last modified December 28, 2015. Accessed on February 24, 2016. http://www.latimes.com/world/asia/la-fg-korean-sex-slaves-20151228-story.html

[7] Justin McCurry, “South Korea warns Japan over ‘comfort women’ accord after claims of no proof,” The Guardian, Last modified on February 18, 2016. Accessed on February 24, 2016 http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/18/south-korea-warns-japan-comfort-women-accord-claims-of-no-proof


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