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‘Comfort Women’: Japan Still in Denial

30 May 2013

Japan was recently reviewed by two different human rights bodies: the Committee against Torture (CAT) and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR). Both expressed concerns regarding the issue of ‘comfort women’ and the lack of cooperation from Japan on this issue.

Who are ‘comfort women’?

‘Comfort women’ is the common designation for all women that have been trafficked and forced to serve as sexual slaves for the Japanese military forces during the Second World War. These women are still waiting for recognition of the crimes they have been victims of, and are still seeking redress today. Moreover, most of the victims, owing to their advanced age, are already passing on without ever seeing justice.

If you wish to know more about ‘Comfort women’, have a look at our previous statements:

Japan’s denial

The Convention against Torture obligates Japan to provide assistance, redress and rehabilitation for victims of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment. Yet, although they have recognized that this sexual exploitation constituted such treatment, Japan has done nothing to address the issue so far, apart from apologies in the 1990’s.

Indeed, the Japanese authorities are still denying the existence of sexual slavery, as demonstrated by the recent regrettable comments given in the media by the mayor of Osaka. He claimed that this system of sexual exploitation was necessary and that no one has proved that force was used against the ‘comfort women’. Such accusation is particularly painful as, far from recognizing the responsibility of Japan, it implies that the women willingly entered in some kind of ‘prostitution’, which would place the responsibility on the victim and further stigmatizes them in most traditional societies.

That’s why both the Committee against Torture (CAT) and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) called upon the Japanese government to make strong and complete apologies, and to provide the victims with the necessary reparation they deserve. They recommended that Japan fully inform and educate the public on the exploitation of ‘comfort women’ by including it as a wrongdoing in school textbooks. They stressed the need to educate the public in order to prevent hate speech, sexual abuse and stigmatization of the victims.

Photo of a Chinese 'comfort girl'Education would be the first step towards redress for victims. Yet, the government must also take action to rehabilitate the victims and to prevent impunity. But so far, Japan has continuously failed to prosecute those responsible for these sexual abuses and to provide reparation to the ‘comfort women’.

Facing the criticisms from the two committees on this issue, Japan responded that neither the Convention against Torture nor the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights were retroactively applicable to this issue of ‘comfort women’ that took place decades before Japan’s accession to these treaties.

In addition, the Japanese delegation stated that Japan has provided reparation to the victims through the implementation of the Asian Women’s Fund to support projects for former ‘comfort women’, and through bilateral agreements with the countries concerned, making the issue of claims legally settled.

Yet, for both committees, this was not sufficient: the amount of money spent for compensation and reparation by the government was very small compared to the $5 million raised in donations for the fund.

Furthermore, the Convention against Torture is meant to be applicable to all cases of inhuman and degrading treatment committed by a public official, and the crime committed by Japan against ‘comfort women’ is definitely inhuman and degrading treatment within the scope of the convention.

What can civil society do now?

The process of human rights reviews does not end at the review itself, it is rather a continuous process that civil society needs to be involved in to ensure the supervision of the implementation of the recommendations given by the human rights bodies. The recommendations from the CAT will soon be available on their website. In the meantime, you can already read the CESCR’s observations here.

Civil society must keep advocating for the protection and promotion of all human rights, and also monitor and assess the implementation of the recommendations. If you are engaged on this issue, you can quote the conclusions from these bodies in your advocacy work and you should be able to monitor and report on their implementation.

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Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

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WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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