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Jap sex slavery: Emperor 'guilty'

2000-12-12 20:19

Tokyo - In a mock tribunal on Japan's wartime policy of forcing women into sexual slavery, an international panel of judges on Tuesday found the late Emperor Hirohito guilty and demanded the state compensate and apologise to victims.

The court of law, however, saw it differently.

In rulings handed down just days before a symbolic Women's International War Crimes Tribunal, a Tokyo court said women raped by soldiers during World War II should not get government compensation because, among other reasons, the statute of limitations had expired on their decades-old case.

Victims said time had not eased their agony.

"Everytime I relate my story, I feel the pain all over again," said Filipino victim Tomasa Dioso Salinog, 71, who told of being kidnapped by Japanese troops as a teenager. "I can never forget what I've been through."

Apology Refused

Historians say Japan forced about 200 000 women to work in military brothels throughout Asia in the 1930s and 1940s. Tokyo has admitted that this was the case but refused to provide compensation or an official apology to individuals.

It insists that all government-level compensation was settled by postwar peace treaties, and courts say international law does not require damages to be paid.

Mock trial participants said Japan had not adequately acknowledged responsibility. Besides Hirohito, military leaders and wartime politicians were among the accused, and judges said a final verdict to be issued in March, 2001 would determine their responsibility.

As far as the emperor's role, "he knew or should've known about the establishment of the system of comfort stations," said Gabrielle McDonald, one of the judges. "He took no action to respond."

No Legal Force

The trial was organised by non-governmental organisations to draw attention to the plight of women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II.

The ruling, which came after four days of testimony from now elderly former sex slaves and ex-Japanese soldiers, had no legal force. But the victims - who ended the trial by waving white handkerchiefs before a crowd of cheering supporters - said they felt some vindication.

"There's hope for us," said Jan Ruff-O'Herne, a Dutch woman victimised by Japanese troops in Indonesia. "The main thing after this tribunal is that Japan will apologise by acknowledging the wrongs of the past."

Outside the assembly hall where the tribunal was held, a small but vocal group of ultra-rightists protested at what they said was an attempt by the "international communists" to belittle Japanese heritage.

They broadcast through loudspeakers their belief that Japan did not force women into sexual slavery.

'I Am Alone'

The victims who participated in the tribunal had a very different story to tell.

In an interview with Associated Press Television, Salinog of the Philippines talked about seeing Japanese soldiers decapitate her father - her one remaining parent - with a sword as he struggled to keep them from abducting her.

"I could bear all the suffering they inflicted on me, but the killing of my father changed my whole life," she said in her local dialect. In heavily accented English, she added, "I am alone."

Salinog was one of 80 former sex slaves from the Philippines who last week lost a court case in which they demanded 920 million yen ($9 million) and an apology from the Japanese government for their suffering.

Review in March

The Tokyo High Court upheld a lower-court ruling rejecting their demands. The ruling came less than a week after the court rejected a former Korean sex slave's demand for compensation.

Participating in the mock tribunal were women from North and South Korea, the Philippines, China, Taiwan, Indonesia, East Timor and the Netherlands.

The accused included Hirohito, military leaders and Cabinet ministers who led Japan's wartime aggression in Asia. The four judges said they planned to review the evidence and issue a final verdict in March of next year that would determine the responsibility of the other accused.

The tribunal achieved some, but not significant media coverage in Japan. It attracted more attention from the rest of Asia, where feelings are still raw over Japan's wartime plunder of the region.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said at a press briefing on Tuesday that the mock trial "shows the strong indignation of the majority of the victims, those Japanese people who uphold justice and the international community.

"We hope Japan will adopt a responsible attitude and handle properly the question of history," Zhang said. - Sapa-AP

SAPA