Comfort women still issue in U.S.

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Comfort women still issue in U.S.

Senior U.S. Congressman Mike Honda called on Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday to pay more attention to the issue of so-called comfort women - women and girls who were forcibly drafted as sex slaves by the Japanese military during World War II.

In a letter to Kerry, Honda, a Democratic representative from California, urged Kerry to draw “immediate attention to this important matter,” especially considering that many of the victims are now in their 80s and 90s. Hwang Geum-ja, a 90-year-old former comfort woman, recently passed away.

Honda said that time was running out and requested a meeting with the U.S. State Department.

The California congressman spearheaded efforts to include a nonbinding report into a 2014 spending bill, which was signed by President Barack Obama last month. The report attached to the legislation urges Japan to heed House Resolution 121, which was passed by the House of Representatives in 2007 and stipulates that the Japanese government admit to and officially apologize to the women they forcibly recruited as sex slaves.

The nonbinding document also urged the U.S. State Department to encourage Tokyo to address those issues and confront its wartime past.

Honda has stated that while some may say that Japan’s efforts to atone and compensate the victims is enough, he does not think it is sufficient, calling it a human rights issue, not simply a historical or regional dispute.

The Democratic representative, a descendant of Japanese immigrants, spent 14 years of his childhood at an internment camp in Colorado during World War II. He has dedicated many years to calling on Japan to apologize to other Asian nations for its wartime atrocities.

While Japan has faced increased friction with its Asian neighbors, including Seoul and Beijing, over historical issues, international officials and diplomats have also voiced concern over Japan’s denial of its actions during the war.

“We can’t afford to have Japan and China, let alone Japan, China and Korea, working at cross purposes,” Daniel R. Russel, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said at a press conference Tuesday. “None of these tensions can be solved by any one party alone.”

Russel recently visited all three countries; there has been speculation over whether Korea and Japan will be included in President Obama’s upcoming trip to Asia.

Earlier this week, Tim Hitchens, the British ambassador to Tokyo, urged Japan to acknowledge its historical transgressions and establish a more conducive environment for improving ties with neighboring countries.

“The best way to redeem our past mistakes is to acknowledge mistakes made and be active in helping to build a better future,” the top U.K. envoy said during a conference in Tokyo.

Abe’s controversial visit on Dec. 26 to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japan’s war dead, including 14 Class-A war criminals, also continues to draw condemnation from the international community. Hitchens indirectly told Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe not to visit the shrine again.

Last week, an exhibition honoring comfort women was unveiled at the Angouleme International Comics Festival in France. Work from nearly 20 Korean comic artists and was shown at the event, despite opposition by the Japanese Embassy in France and a petition by extremist Japanese organizations.

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