Sixteen history groups criticize Abe’s posturing

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Sixteen history groups criticize Abe’s posturing

A group of 16 Japanese historical associations on Monday urged its politicians and national media in a joint statement to expressly acknowledge that the Imperial Japanese Army mobilized women and young girls into sexual slavery during World War II.

The historians defined the victims, who are euphemistically referred to as “comfort women,” as those who fell “to unspeakable violence as sex slaves [and …] were subjected not only to forced recruitment, but also to conditions of sexual slavery which violated their basic human rights,” in accordance with the views of numerous historical studies.

Their declaration came amid growing calls among some nationalistic politicians and media outlets that Japan retract its landmark 1993 Kono Statement, in which Japan acknowledged that it had forcibly, or under dubious circumstances, recruited thousands of women from its former colonies - China, Southeast Asian nations and the Korean Peninsula - and apologized for its wartime atrocities.

Those demands were triggered after the Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun retracted articles about Japan’s comfort women in August that were published in the 1980s and ’90s after the paper confirmed inaccuracies in interviews given by a man who claimed to have forcibly recruited women from Jeju Island.

In rebuking calls by nationalists that the Kono Statement be withdrawn due to the retractions, the joint declaration said that the landmark statement in 1993 was “not based on the retracted Asahi articles … nor does it rely on the testimony” of the Japanese man who was found to have given false interviews.

The historians also express concerns over the concerted efforts by Japanese conservatives against Japanese academics engaged in activity regarding the comfort women issue by intentionally overemphasizing the Asahi Shimbun’s misreporting.

These academics, they added, “have been unfairly attacked with threats calling for their resignation or the cancellation of their lectures.”

The 16 groups that joined the cause include the Japanese Historical Council, the Association of Historical Science, the Osaka Historical Association and the History Educationalists Conference of Japan.

The joint statement comes at a time when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has consistently shied away from acknowledging that the comfort women system perpetuated by the Japanese Imperial Army deceived young women into sexual slavery.

Aside from expressing his regret over what he described as “human trafficking,” Abe has not apologized for the country’s wartime aggressions in a straightforward manner.

Tokyo’s apparently lukewarm attitude toward the victims, who are now elderly, has been a major thorn in bilateral relations between Korea and Japan. Since taking office in February 2013, President Park Geun-hye has refused to hold talks with Abe in the absence of an apology.

The statement by the 16 Japanese historical associations comes less than three weeks after 187 internationally renowned historians issued a similar joint statement echoing calls that Tokyo face up to the country’s misdeeds in the first half of the 20th century.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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