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Home > Media Reiews > Weekly Review Last Updated: 14:57 03/09/2007
Weekly Review #26: December 10, 2001

People's Court Decides, Japan is Guilty

John de Boer (University of Tokyo)

On December 4 the Women's International War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague ruled that Japan should apologize and pay reparations for the sexual enslavement of over 200,000 women during World War II. Dubbed the Tokyo Tribunal, an international panel of 5 judges headed by Judge Gabrielle Kirk MacDonald (former president of the UN's Yugoslavia War Crimes Tribunal) handed down a guilty verdict specifically identifying the late Emperor Hirohito and several other Japanese senior military officials as guilty of crimes against humanity. The verdict was based on the testimonies of 35 women victimized by the Japanese Imperial Army 50 years ago. quoted Judge MacDonald as she delivered the ruling saying, "there are no museums, no graves for the unknown comfort women, no education of future generations, and no judgement days for the victims of Japan's military sexual slavery…The crimes committed against these survivors remain one of the great unremedied injustices of the Second World War." She concluded saying, "Japan should acknowledge fully its responsibility and liability for the establishment of the comfort women system and issue a full and frank apology."

Although not legally binding,, the BBC and a great number of international human rights groups, including the Asian Human Rights Commission, have claimed this ruling as international recognition of abuses committed by the Imperial Army against hundreds of thousands of Asian women. Lin Chew of the Asian Human Rights Commission was quoted stating that, "the ruling is a very clear and strong moral indictment of Japan for its crimes against women during the war."

According to the BBC, the charges levied against Emperor Hirohito and other senior military officers (all dead), were based on concrete evidence that proved Emperor Hirohito knew or should have known about the establishment of state-sanctioned military brothels where some 200,000 women were raped and forced into sexual enslavement.

Among the victims, who were mainly Chinese and Korean, the BBC highlighted Dutch victim Jan Ruff O'Herne as describing, "we were loaded on to a lorry and dropped off at a brothel in Semarang, on the Island of Java (Indonesia). Nobody understands how much we suffered, only the women who went through it with us." She admitted that it had taken her 50 years to speak out about these experiences. Testifying on the systematic rape she had endured since the age of 11, victim Park Ok-ryun recalled that, "from seven in the morning until twelve, I had to service foot soldiers, from twelve to six the officers and from six until the next morning, the generals."

The amount of accumulated evidence weighs heavily against the Japanese Imperial government. Nevertheless, successive Japanese governments have denied the allegation that this was a state-sanctioned practice. Many of the victims have died and others have aged considerably. If Japan is to be a respected and trusted member of the international community, it is imperative that their call for an apology and reparations is adhered to.


  • Kalyani, "Japan Urged to Apologize for War Crimes on Women," OneWorld South Asia, December 4, 2001.
  • "Japan found 'guilty' of sex crimes," British Broadcast Corporation, December 4, 2001
  • "Hirohito 'guilty' over sex slaves," British Broadcast Corporation, December 12, 2000
  • "Sex Slaves Put Japan on Trial," British Broadcast Corporation, December 8, 2000.

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