UN watchdog urges Japan to accept blame for 'comfort women'
Supporters of former South Korean "comfort women" who were forced to serve as sex slaves for Japanese troops during World War II hold butterfly-shaped placards reading "official apology," in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul on August 15, 2012 - by Jung Yeon-Je
"We want Japan to make the kind of statement that the families and the women themselves -- the few who are still surviving -- can recognise as an unambiguous, uninhibited acceptance of total responsibility," said Nigel Rodley, head of the UN Human Rights Committee.
In a report issued after a hearing on Japan's human rights record on Thursday, the committee said it was time for a wide-ranging probe.
"What's important for the committee is that it is indeed a true, independent, effective and impartial investigation," said Cees Flinterman, its deputy chairman.
"That would mean that the Japanese government could involve also outsiders, non-Japanese, that could help strengthen the independence. It could be the way forward," he told reporters.
The committee said victims and their families should be given access to justice, that all evidence should be disclosed, that Japanese schoolbooks must deal with the issue frankly, and that denial and defamation of victims be roundly condemned.
Around 200,000 women, mainly from Korea but also China, Taiwan, Indonesia and other Asian countries, were forced to work in Japanese military brothels as "comfort women".
The victims have failed to obtain redress for their treatment despite repeated efforts in the decades since the war, and their numbers are dwindling as the years pass.
Japanese courts have dismissed claims for reparation and rejected calls for criminal probes, citing the passing of the statute of limitations.
- Apology called into question -
Japan issued a landmark apology in 1993 -- known as the Kono Statement -- and mainstream public opinion holds that the wartime government was culpable.
But a tranche of the political right, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, continue to cast doubt, claiming the brothels were staffed by professional prostitutes.
Japan recently held a review of the issue which upheld the apology but asserted there was no evidence to corroborate the women's testimony, sparking regional anger.
"I suspect that the Kono Statement would have sufficed, had it not been for the fact that it has so evidently been put into question," said Rodley.
Despite that, South Korea and Japan on Wednesday resumed high-level talks on the sensitive issue, which were suspended due to Tokyo's review.
The committee lambasted the stance of Japan's delegation during a July 15-16 hearing. The committee oversees respect for an international rights treaty and holds regular views of countries' records.
They accused Japan of contradicting itself by denying that the women were forcibly deported to brothels but also admitting they were recruited, transported and managed by coercion.
Rodley said that was a worse stance than in the committee's five previous hearings on Japan's record.
"What is troubling is that the delegation now seems to need to speak out of both sides of its mouth," he said.
The committee expressed frustration that Tokyo also failed to heed its past calls on areas including racism, unequal treatment of women, lengthy police detention without access to lawyers, and the death penalty.
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