Judicial Proceedings:
Comfort Women

The term "comfort women," or 従軍慰安婦, refers to women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army during WWII.  Their number is estimated to be around 200,000.

The comfort women issue came to the fore in 1991 when Kim Hak-soon from South Korea became the first woman to publicly testify that she was a comfort woman during WWII.  The Japanese government initially denied any involvement in setting up and operating 'comfort stations' in Asia, but in 1993 it admitted its official involvement after the evidence was unearthed by a Japanese historian, Yoshimi Yoshiaki. 

In 1995, the Asian Women’s Fund (AWF) was established, based on a decision by the Japanese government, to raise money from individuals to compensate former comfort women. The atonement programs were implemented in the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan and the Netherlands in 1997, and most of them ended by 2002 (except the program in Taiwan). As of June 2002, 285 women accepted the compensation.  Many declined, however, since the money came from private individuals and not from the Japanese government.

Numerous lawsuits have been filed since 1991 by former comfort women in Japanese courts, as well as one in the United States, demanding compensation and an official apology from the government of Japan.  Most of the cases have been dismissed.  There has been one ruling by a Japanese court which stipulated that compensation be awarded to the women.  It was overturned in March 2001. In the most recent lawsuit ruled in April 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the 1972 Japan-China Joint Communique bars Chinese individuals from seeking war compensation through the courts, and dismissed a claim for damages filed by Chinese people, while suggesting that compensation could be settled outside court.

All lawsuits are filed on the basis that the Japanese government violated numerous international treaties which protect civilians in military-occupied territories and prohibit trafficking in persons (i.e. The Hague Convention).  The lawsuits state that the women had been either abducted from their hometowns or tricked into serving in 'comfort stations.'  They emphasize extremely poor living conditions and sexual, as well as psychological, abuse suffered by the women, which had a devastating impact on their lives after they ceased being comfort women. 

The Japan side argues: 1) Japan is subject to sovereign immunity; 2) Japan had already settled its war crime compensation issues by signing the San Francisco Peace Treaty in 1951 and other bilateral treaties with the countries involved; 3) individual victims' claims for damages are not acceptable under international law, since such compensation can only be, and was, carried out on a government-to-government basis; and 4) Japan has no legal obligation to compensate the victims due to the expiration of the 20-year statute of limitations.

The comfort women issue is highly complex, emotionally charged, and far from being resolved.  Below are presented both sides of the issue, including summaries of cases being filed by the former comfort women, and where available, official court documents.  Otherwise, newspaper reports and scholarly works are relied on to gather the facts presented.  As with all aspects of this website, any recent information or corrections concerning the data listed are welcome. 

United States

Asia

 

 

 

United States

Asia