A senior lawmaker of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party was quoted as saying Saturday that Korean women forced into sexual slavery during World War II could be asked to repeat their testimonies.
The remark by Shigeru Ishiba, the LDP secretary-general, came a day after Tokyo announced it would set up an investigative team to reexamine a previous government apology to the former sex slaves, euphemistically called “comfort women.” He was quoted as telling reporters that the review was aimed at “improving veracity” by hearing the stories of the victims while they are “still healthy.”
The Japanese lawmaker’s remark, which could be seen as the latest sign of Tokyo’s unrepentant attitude over its wartime wrongdoings, was insensitive and brazen, adding insult to injury.
The 1993 apology issued by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono acknowledged that the Imperial Japanese Army was involved to some extent in the recruitment of women, mostly Korean, to serve in front line brothels. The Kono statement was based partly on the testimonies of 16 Korean victims.
Ishiba said Tokyo planned to “study the truth,” arguing there had been various discussions ― probably “doubts” might have been the word in his mind ― about what the Japanese government of the time had heard and verified through those concerned.
It took huge courage for former comfort women to overcome their sense of shame and come forward and testify about what they suffered. Their painful statements made Tokyo admit responsibility, though in a minimal manner, for the wartime sexual enslavement in the 1993 statement.
Without any ulterior motive, a reinvestigation would go nowhere but to the original conclusion. The aging victims have given sufficient testimony and may still be willing to testify again to avoid the truth being forgotten.
But the Japanese government will never be in the position to ask them to repeat their testimonies to verify the Kono statement. What Ishiba and other rightwing Japanese politicians should do is to take a serious look into what the victims have already testified to and other records that point to Tokyo’s responsibility.
The LDP lawmaker seemed oblivious to the urgency of settling the wartime sexual slavery issue when he mentioned the need to hear again from the victims while they “are still healthy.” Of the 237 Korean women who have come forward as former comfort women, only 55 are still alive, many of whom are in ill health.
President Park Geun-hye urged Tokyo on Saturday to heal the wounds of the sexual slavery victims in her address marking the 95th anniversary of Koreans’ 1919 uprising against Japan’s colonial rule. Tokyo will have forever lost the opportunity to repent if the remaining victims all die ― which will be in a matter of years.