Sunday, November 30, 2008

Recognise 'comfort women'

LONDON - JAPAN should acknowledge the importance of Second World War 'comfort women' as a 'painful and emotive' issue in South Korea, an influential committee of British parliamentarians said on Sunday.

The Foreign Affairs Committee said that improving relations between Japan and South Korea could play an important part in resolving the nuclear stand-off involving North Korea.

Up to 200,000 women from Korea, China, the Philippines, Indonesia and other countries were kidnapped and forced to work in military brothels used by Japanese troops during World War II, campaigners say.

'The issue of the Second World War 'comfort women' - Korean and other Asian women obliged to provide sexual services for the Japanese army - remains a painful and emotive issue for the South Korean public and government,' the cross-party committee said in its 'Global Security: Japan and Korea' report.

'Its importance should be recognised internationally, including by Japan.'

The issue of 'comfort women' has long proved an irritant in relations between Japan and its neighbours.

Japan has apologised for the military's involvement in crimes against the women, but denies responsibility for running a system of military brothels before its surrender to Allied forces in 1945.

The US and Canadian parliaments last year called for a fresh apology from Japan for forcing women into sexual slavery.

The British committee also looked at the territorial dispute over the Takeshima or Dokdo islands between the two countries.

'Given the important contribution which enhanced Japanese-South Korean co-operation could make on a number of issues, especially policy towards North Korea, we further conclude that the continuing capacity of the Takeshima/Dokdo islets dispute to disrupt Japanese-South Korean relations is regrettable,' the report said.

'We recommend that the (British) government should urge Tokyo and Seoul not to escalate the dispute and encourage both parties to seek a mechanism for its lasting resolution.'

In July, Japan issued guidance to schools to teach that the uninhabited islands were its territory, prompting Seoul - which controls them - to stage military exercises in response.

The report also turned the spotlight on Japan's human rights record.

It said there was 'cause for concern' over substitute prisons or daiyo kangoku - where prisoners are held in police station cells - adding these were 'likely' to lead to miscarriages of justice.

Britain should lobby Japan to modify the system and ensure that interrogations are monitored externally 'to prevent abuses", it said.

The report added that North Korea should be returned to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty regime as a non-nuclear weapons state and recommended that its demands for civil nuclear power 'should be considered'.

In addition, it called on the British government to 'press harder' over the human rights of North Korean emigrants in China in discussions with Beijing, the European Union and the United Nations. -- AFP

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