Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Re-writing the past

" Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" - George Steiner

Three elderly "a-mas" - grandmothers, or euphemestically called "comfort women" took part in a protest in Taipei today - one of several taking place in Asia.

Two were in their 80s; one in her 90s.

The reason? Activists are furious at comments by Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, bowing to right wing pressure, in which he denied that women were ever forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during the second world war.

According to a UN report, around 200,000 women throughout Asia are thought to have been drafted into sex slavery by the Japanese during the war - working in a network of military brothels; they thought they were going to be given legitimate work in factories or other places.

Their individual stories are quite terrible..many served 20-30 men or more a day; but their misery didnt end there. After the war, many comfort women were shunned by society when they returned home. So they kept quiet about their past, hiding their shame. Nearly five decades later, some women finally began to talk about what happened. They started a campaign to demand restitution and an official apology.

But they failed to win either an apology or compensation from the Japanese government. [A private fund was set up in Japan - but many women refused to accept compensation - calling it an insult]. They want an official apology and compensation from the Japanese government.

Several legal cases were brought but thrown out by the Japanese courts over the years. Japan's official position is that all war-time related claims were dealt with in bilateral peace treaties decades ago.

What the women want most of all is a public apology - to get some dignity back and see justice before they die.

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