March 10, 2014

Indonesian Comfort Women Seek Justice as Time Runs Out

The term Jugun Ianfu (Comfort Women) refers to those women who were forced into sexual slavery to fulfill the sexual needs of Japanese military personnel and civil officers at ianjo or comfort stations during the Asian Pacific War in 1931-1945.  Most people in the U.S. think about this era as World War II, which included the European Theater as well as Asia, but the U.S. did not enter the war until 1941, with the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.  The sexual slavery system was created by the Japanese military to operate in the areas they occupied and was part of the Japanese logistical war strategy during the Asia Pacific War of 1931-1945.

The total number of wartime Jugun Ianfu will never be known for sure. The estimate is at least 200,000 women from Japan, South Korea, China, Taiwan, The Philippines, The Netherlands, Malaysia, Timor Leste, and Indonesia.  In Indonesia, there are around 22,000 former Jugun Ianfu as reported by Ex-Heiho Forum, and 1,156 as reported by Legal Aid Institute-Jogjakarta (Hartono & Juliantoro 1997). This does not include unreported cases because some former Jugun Ianfu are ashamed or have passed away.

Sixty-nine years have passed since the Japanese surrendered to the Allied Forces in 1945. The official silence about Jugun Ianfu was broken 23 years ago with the testimony of South Korean survivor, Kim Hak Soon in 1991 at the “Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery,” convened first in Tokyo, Japan, in 2000, and again at The Hague, Netherlands in 2001. These tribunals were significant in their decision to hold Emperor Hirohito, high military officers, and staff responsible for the crimes. However, as a main perpetrator, the Japanese government has yet to take responsibility for these actions during the war.

Hence, many of the survivors have been faced with new forms of violence. The wounds of Japanese colonialism and war still fester in several nations in East and Southeast Asia. In a number of countries, in particular South and North Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, the Philippines, Timor Leste, the Netherlands, and Taiwan, “…the plight of Jugun Ianfu in particular has come to symbolize imperial Japan’s war crimes.” (Soh 2008:1) In general, attitudes regarding the proper place of the Jugun Ianfu in the social landscape both nationally (South Korea, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Indonesia) and internationally have not changed significantly. Today, these Jugun Ianfu survivors, who are now in their late eighties and nineties, still live with terrifying memories of their captivity and sexual enslavement. Many suffer from irreparable psychological and physical wounds.

Time is Running Out for Justice

The need to address justice for Indonesian Jugun Ianfu survivors is now at a critical juncture.  While most Jugun Ianfu survivors in South Korea, China, Taiwan, and the Philippines have courageously stepped forward and are telling the truth of what happened to them, only a small number of Jugun Ianfu survivors in Indonesia have emerged from the shadows to tell their stories to the public.  This reluctance to be heard is the result of a great sense of guilt, shame, fear, insecurity, and social depression that is embedded within Indonesian society regarding Jugun Ianfu survivors. Indonesian and Japanese societies have stigmatized and marginalized these tragic victims who allege that they continue to suffer with the ongoing outrage of being denounced as prostitutes or “gross humans” within their own communities.

Justice for the Indonesian Jugun Ianfu can only become a reality if survivors step forward and tell the truth. By telling the truth, the terrible psychological damage of stigmatization can be erased and the deep physical and psychological wounds of the Indonesian Jugun Ianfu can begin to heal. The truth about the systematic use of women as sexual slaves describes a criminal act, one that is further compounded by governments that continue to deny that these women were unwilling victims.  This false version of history requires legal remedies and the recanting of decades of false testimony.

The Jugun Ianfu in Indonesia need to tell the truth about how they suffered in the past, not only from sexual violence, but also from the loss of family during a brutal conflict that occurred over many years. Truth-telling is the only way in which Jugun Ianfu survivors have any chance at all to even begin the process of lessening the physical and psychological trauma they endured. Truth is oriented toward creating a transparent history, and it is from this orientation that I propose truth-telling as a way to heal the wounds and lessen the effects of the trauma suffered by these victims.  If there is any hope for these women who have suffered so terribly to develop even a small element of trust, it will be through truth-telling.  It remains to be seen if it is even realistic to expect the Jugun Ianfu to be able to find any way to forgive those who perpetrated these horrific crimes against them during their enslavement.

The concept of truth-telling requires that there be full confessions from the perpetrators. However, in the case of the Jugun Ianfu in Indonesia, the truth-telling process will focus only on the voices of the victims. Time is of the essence as survivors are growing older.  Those survivors still alive today may die before they receive the justice they deserve for the great suffering they endured which has effectively taken their entire lives from them.

Lessons from South Africa

There are four important initiatives based on truth-telling that are recommended in order to achieve justice for Indonesia’s Jugun Ianfu survivors. These important are adapted from the work of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Chaired by Desmond Tutu who was appointed by Nelson Mandela.  I have summarized the adaptation of each of the four truth-telling initiatives below:

1)  Factual or forensic truth which refers to “the familiar legal or scientific notion of bringing to light corroborated evidence in obtaining accurate information through reliable (impartial, objective) procedures” (Fisher 2000:133). This Commission will try to identify the building and locations for the ianjo in the areas of Japanese military deployment and look for the eyewitnesses in order to collect testimony and evidence. This Commission will also search for a village of ianjo and will look for buildings which were used as ianjo.  The testimony of victims and eyewitnesses will help to confirm the location where the ianjo was established.

2)  Personal narrative truth which calls for the stories of victims: These narratives “tell the history of the lives of women” (Personal Narratives Group 1989:4). In a situation wherein the victim may find it difficult to tell her personal narrative, the life story is told to a second person through presentation, discussion and exhibition. The second person then records every necessary document such as pictures, videos, diaries, journals and letters. I recommend four different forms of personal narrative, these are: first, non-verbal literature such as books – biography and autobiographies, journals, letters and diaries; second, art performance such as theater, short/long cinema and documentary; third, art exhibition such as paintings and photographs; and fourth, personal narrative taught by second person such as presentations and discussion at conferences and symposiums. The publication of the life histories of survivors must be coupled with press conferences through credible media to awaken the senses of the public about the said issue.

3)  Social truth targets to establish bridges between individuals in the process of education: Meaning, the truth can be realized during social mutual interaction between the survivors and the second persons. The objective of social truth as a truth-telling method through education is based on the paradigm that “peace can be educated by emphasizing the role of individual’s attitude and change of behavior for the attainment of peace” (Galtung 1975). Truth Commission or other actors can call this program Education for Reconciliation or it can create other related names.

Here are the Education for Reconciliation programs I recommend:

  • Establish and maintain a Survivors House to serve as a place to do historical research and that includes an education center.  It should also be a temporary shelter for the survivors.
  • Organize the “Friendship” program that aims to build a network between survivors, academia, and individuals.
  • Establish an integration program by organizations or other actors for survivors and the families of survivors, aiming to provide important mechanisms to assist the survivors in their quest for reconciliation.
  • Establish an historical museum and memorial monument.
  • To be workable, organizations or other actors must organize Education for Reconciliation with Information, Education, and Media Relations advocacy programs. Besides those programs, the           Education for Reconciliation programs must be aligned with other assistance programs such as the welfare assistance programs, campaign and advocacy work, lawsuit support action, a monthly general meeting for the survivors and families, and finally, the establishment of an international networking program.

4)   Restorative truth refers to “the macro level of analysis in finding facts and meaning in human relationships such as between survivors and the society or between survivors and the state” (Fisher 2000:133). The process of holding public hearings can be one clear example of this procedure.

Truth-telling is just one tool in reconciliation’s toolkit, but it is the tool that serves as the foundation for eventual reconciliation. The other tools that complete the picture and make reconciliation possible include healing, retributive justice, and reparation.  In Indonesia, where the issue of Jugun Ianfu is not acknowledged by the public and the Indonesian government refuses to address the issue, truth-telling by the victims is critical in order to get all of the information into the hands of the public.  It is at this point that other contributors to achieving full justice for the Jugun Ianfu of Indonesia enter the effort.  These important players would include local, national, and international news outlets covering the Jugun Ianfu story from beginning to end.

Conclusion

Although truth-telling can be a strong, effective way for the voices of Jugun Ianfu survivors to be heard, it is almost invariably extremely difficult in many cultural contexts.  Few cultures in the world encourage exposing stories of severe mistreatment by governments.  It is rare to find cultures where people approve of their fellow citizens talking openly about very private matters. In the case of Indonesian Jugun Ianfu survivors, they stand alone against a government that denies the historical facts.

Imagine these now elderly women being questioned as if they were veteran prostitutes, with decades of their lives lived in the dangerous world of crime on the edges of cities and towns.  Try to feel as they would sitting across from interrogators in a badly lit, mostly barren room.  Hear these frail survivors as they bear the entire burden of telling the truth about the life of “comfort women” who serviced the sexual needs of military men of all ranks, as well as civil servants and others who were deemed deserving of having their physiological sexual needs satisfied by young women who were captured from mostly Asian countries and held against their wills with no chance of escape.

The Jugun Ianfu women, now in their eighties and nineties, are telling the truth about how they were rounded up and transported to areas called ianjo, or comfort stations, where they began decades of sexual slavery and the unimaginable trauma that resulted from their imprisonment.  Japan established the Jugun Ianfu as part of their strategic planning for conflict starting in 1931.  The services of these enslaved women were treated as a vital element contributing to the welfare of military personnel on a par with as food, clothing, and medical care.

The truth-telling by these brave Indonesian Jugun Ianfu will inspire the others who have hidden in the shadows for many reasons, not the least of which is the psychological trauma and damage they suffered at the hands of their captors. This foundation of truth-telling can be joined by the justice of reparation in order to achieve complete reconciliation. When the Indonesian Jugun Ianfu receive reparation and the offenders are made to pay, through legal channels, for the physical and psychological trauma they caused these women, reconciliation will be within reach as will the final chapter in this shameful, horrific, inhumane treatment endured by the Indonesian Jugun Ianfu.


Notes:
Some of the text in this post appears on the author’s blog entries at: http://www.internationalpeaceandconflict.org/


Some of the text in this post appears in the author’s master’s thesis:
“Truth-telling as a Foundation for Reconciliation for the Jugun Ianfu in Indonesia” http://rotaryicu.wordpress.com/rotary-fellows/

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