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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.


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.

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/

December 8, 2013

In Memory of Nelson Mandela

My post today has very few words. Nelson Mandela died yesterday at 95. Here are two beautiful and wise clips about him.

The first video is from CNN and is a retrospective by Christine Amanpour The second, also from CNN, is Mandela in his own words.

Last night, understandably, the media was filled with words remembering and honoring a human being the likes of who appears not once in a lifetime but once every few lifetimes. Some figures genuinely change history because of how evolved, pragmatic, and enlightened they are. Mandela was one of these people. It wasn’t that he didn’t feel resentment and anger and even hate about the years that were taken from him and especially the time as a parent for his children – he was no saint – but he exercised a powerful will to overcome his bitterness. He said that he walked into prison hotheaded and intemperate and came out mature.

It was a miracle that in 1994 rather than a civil war blood bath there was a historic democratic election that united blacks, Indians, and whites. Mandela went from prisoner to President and somehow held together personal loyalty to enemies of the West, like Khadafy and Castro and Arafat who supported the ANC when no one in the West did, while insuring that the post Apartheid South Africa was firmly aligned with the values of freedom and democracy of the West. He was a revolutionary and a traditionalist and perhaps his most profound capacity was his ability to understand and even empathize with the enemy. Mandela is proof that by force of one’s own choice and dignity one can compel even your enemy to respect you.

How do we honor his legacy? Can we be guided by our hopes and not our fears? Can we believe that human beings and countries can change for the better?

Enough words. Mandela once said, “The silence of solitude makes us understand how precious words are and how real speech is in its impact on the way people live and die.”

Jewish Wisdom teaches that the highest form of praise is silence. So I ask this for us to reflect upon: What enables people to become better rather than bitter? Nelson Mandela’s memory will be a blessing but will we be worthy of remembering Nelson Mandela?

Addendum: Not sure you will get this on the mainstream media. My daughter Talia, who lived in Soweto, South Africa for seven weeks this past summer just called me. “Abba, the second I heard Mandela died I felt really really sad and I immediately called my friend Cpho (who lives in Soweto and became Talia’s best friend).” Cpho told Talia that older people who experienced Mandela’s presence and leadership were very somber while the next generation – her generation – were celebrating his life. Such different forms of grieving both of which so respectful and genuine. We live in the very beginning of a world whose boundaries are more permeable than ever in history.

Note:  This article was originally published in The Daily Wisdom, December 6, 2013.

October 5, 2013

Pruning Branches on “Peace”

Thank you to all who are responding to the question we, along with the International Storytelling Center, are asking at their upcoming festival, October 4-6, 2013, in Jonesborough, Tennessee. Early responses are already coming in for our question:

How might the art and power of storytelling contribute to global peace and collaboration in a troubled world?

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
– Martin Luther King  Jr.

I didn’t post earlier in the week because I wasn’t quite ready to write about peace. After the Boston marathon bombing and the ensuing manhunt, I felt like I couldn’t “authentically” comment on peace since I was struggling to find it within myself.

I didn’t feel “at peace.”

I felt overcome — sorrowful and tormented that the tragedy resonated so deeply. Similar to my feelings after the Sandy Hook shootings last December, I felt stuck in a state of empathy that truly ached.

As a parent, I am experiencing the joy and sacredness of my children ‘daily’ as they discover who they are – fresh with the light and energy of innocence.

At the same time, I am discovering who they have the potential to be. Where can peace be found in the face of that kind of loss?

Searching for explanations only raises more questions: disconnected young men, misguided ideologies about freedom, faith, and religion. As a society, where do we go from here?

Where is peace in all of this, and what can we learn when we feel as if God is absent?

However, in the same moments I have ached over Newtown and Boston, I have also rejoiced that cancer no longer invades the bodies and lives of several dear friends, and the beauty, celebration, and complexity of life continues.

The paradox is that God is present in all of these moments, and peace and patience come to fruition with that understanding. Irish poet John O’Donohue says that somewhere within us, a ‘dignity’ presides that ‘trusts’ the form a day takes, continuously “transforming our broken fragments into an eternal continuity that keeps us.”

Trusting the ‘form’ that each day takes (the good and the bad) requires the understanding that within each moment, we can choose to move forward in patience (with love or generosity) or in haste (with indifference or hostility).

The act of patience reminds us that we are not in control, and staying ‘in the struggle’ allows us the opportunity to improve our world and ourselves, rather than accepting the easy answers of apathetic approaches or adopting attitudes of intolerance.

In the New Testament, Paul reminds us that human beings cannot help but see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections.

If we allow ourselves to trust the form each day takes, and choose to accept that grace essentially explains that life happens within the arms of God (as 16th century poet St. John wrote), then we get a glimpse of heaven on earth.

Being still and patient in those moments of struggle reveals the notion that “when we are . . . aware of the inadequacy of our table, it is to that, uninvited, the guest comes” (Thomas).

Through patience, we are acquiring peace of the spirit, so that we can trust the form each day takes.

October 5, 2013

Because a Story Was Shared in a Far Off Land

Thank you to all who are responding to the question we, along with the International Storytelling Center, are asking at their upcoming festival, October 4-6, 2013, in Jonesborough, Tennessee. Early responses are already coming in for our question:

How might the art and power of storytelling contribute to global peace and collaboration in a troubled world?

Shortly before my Pop died, I was working on a play with a Christmas theme. I’d had him over for dinner and just offhandedly asked, “Well, Pop, you got any Vietnam Christmas stories?” not expecting an answer, because he rarely talked about his three tours in Vietnam.

What happened next in the story he shared allowed me to understand the true, life-saving power of story, and how because of story, I did not become an orphan during the TET offensive, when I was born and his life was saved— all because someone knew his story.

It was November of ’67 and Pop was in Quin Hon, Vietnam. A Refrigerated ship pulled into port– the kind that holds lots of food. My dad and his buddy Bobby Noble had the task of “inspecting” the ship. They loved that job, because infractions on refrigerator ships were quickly and magically fixed with a supply of turkeys and steaks. My dad and Bobby found enough infractions to provide a feast. They didn’t bring the food back to the other guys at the base. But– it’s not as bad as you think. My dad was Catholic, and there was a Vietnamese priest there- they called him Father Paul because his real name was hard to pronounce. He spoke English, and Dad would go see him sometimes. They’d share stories about their lives, what it was like for each of them growing up. Dad showed him pictures of my mom, my sister, and talked about the upcoming birth of their new baby, which would happen pretty soon. Father Paul ran the orphanage, and my dad would often bring candy bars and other things there, and sometimes play with the kids. On this day, Pop and Bobby took the food to Father Paul at the orphanage, so the kids, who usually get nothing but rice every day, could have Christmas dinner. In fact, it was enough food for several weeks.

Dad remembers going up the hill that day, carrying the load. He would always call out to let Father Paul know not to worry, but he forgot to this day and he heard father Paul call out. “Ai do! Day la nhung gi? Who’s there? What’s this?”

Pop just shouted up to him, “Xin Chao Cha! Hi Father! It’s Magic Turkey. Give me a hand.” And Father Paul and a few of the older children began taking the boxes into the gates of the orphanage.

Father Paul of course asked, “How is your wife, and the new baby?”

“No baby yet. It’s due in a couple of weeks. Maybe it’ll be a boy this time.”

Of course, they were talking about me.

Father Paul tells him, “When you hear, you come tell me. We’ll celebrate with a steak dinner. I save this one for you.”

Pop replied, “Will do. Gotta get back to my unit. Merry Christmas.”

The orphans and Father Paul had a real feast that Christmas. A few weeks later, there was a huge Offensive by the Viet Cong. The TET Offensive. Dad’s unit was getting hit from all sides. The Viet Cong surrounded the village, even came to the orphanage gates. Father Paul held them off with nothing but a 38 caliber pistol. The Viet Cong soldiers saw him defend the children and left the orphanage alone. My dad survived the offensive. He went up the hill to check on Father Paul once fighting had let up.

Pop called up as usual, maybe not as loudly. “Xin Chao Cha?” and Father Paul appeared. “It’s good to see you safe, father. I heard you had visitors.”

Father Paul met him and said, “I held them off with pistol.”

“That rusty old thirty-eight?”

Father Paul stood firm and explained, “They will not come onto property without a fight from me. Come, I show you why.”

“I know Father, the children. I told you before, I can’t bring any of them home. I just had another baby, two weeks ago. The Red Cross couldn’t find me. Just found out today. What a world to bring a kid into, huh? So you don’t need to show me…”

Then Father Paul cut him short—“Look down hill!”

Pop said he stood speechless for a minute when he realized what he was looking at. “That’s…my unit.”

The Viet Cong thought, and dad thought, that Father Paul held off the soldiers to save the children. Father Paul knew the Viet Cong wouldn’t hurt the orphans. But he also knew that the orphanage sat on a hill with a clear view to dad’s location. The Viet Cong could have completely wiped out the platoon. My dad had been kind to the orphans. He also knew Pop had a child at home and another on the way. Father Paul wanted to return the kindness, so Pop’s children would not be orphans, too. For every small gesture of peace, a miracle happens. For every small story shared, understanding and possibility is created in this world. Because a story was shared in a far off land, in a different culture, during a time of war, I got to grow up with a mom and a dad, and two more brothers and another sister, who then gave me 20 nieces and nephews, and 3 great-nephews. I owe my family, and my father owes his life, to a story.

October 5, 2013

Discovering Our Deepest Human Connection through Stories

Thank you to all who are responding to the question we, along with the International Storytelling Center, are asking at their upcoming festival, October 4-6, 2013, in Jonesborough, Tennessee. Early responses are already coming in for our question:

How might the art and power of storytelling contribute to global peace and collaboration in a troubled world?

Julie-GabrielliI recently had the experience of sitting with two women I had just met and listening to their stories. I was also able to tell a brief personal story. We all marveled at how vividly we lived into each other’s stories, how we were so easily right there with them. Storytelling opens us to wonder, enchantment and imagination – all of which are our birthright as humans. When we experience this deep, previously unobserved connection, we shift from “us” and “them”
to “we”.

It has been suggested that one of our core purposes on this earth is to be the storytellers, to use our imagination and love to give voice to our fellows in the community of life. And to listen – a sacred way of giving attention to another that connects and heals both people.

I love that you are asking this question; it’s my firm belief that there are new stories emerging through each of us – stories of belonging, welcome, abundance and connection – that are replacing the old cultural stories of scarcity, competition, separation, and superiority. Thank you for your important work.


Julie E. Gabrielli
Restorying retreats
Gabrielli Design Studio, LLC
Baltimore, Maryland

October 2, 2013

The Story of Who Owns the Land

Thank you to all who are responding to the question we, along with the International Storytelling Center, are asking at their upcoming festival, October 4-6, 2013, in Jonesborough, Tennessee. Early responses are already coming in for our question:

How might the art and power of storytelling contribute to global peace and collaboration in a troubled world?

From the Peace Parables series

Adapted & Performed by Denise Valentine (inspired by a version from Scandinavian folklore in The Storytellers Goddess by Carolyn McVickar Edwards)
Background Sounds: Freesound.org


Philadelphia, PA 19126