TOKYO: Facing calls to compensate the aging victims
of its wartime sexual slavery, Japan set up the Asian Women's Fund in
1995. It was a significant concession from Japan, which has always
asserted that postwar treaties absolved it of all individual claims
from World War II.
But the fund only fueled anger in the very countries with which Japan had sought reconciliation.
By the time it closed as scheduled last month, only a fraction of
the former sex slaves had accepted money from the fund. Two Asian
governments even offered their own money to discourage more women from
The central problem was that the Japanese government had set up the
fund as a private one and made clear that the "atonement" payments came
from ordinary citizens. Critics inside and outside Japan saw the fund
as another tortured attempt by Tokyo to avoid taking full
responsibility for one of the ugliest aspects of the war.
"It was not directly from the Japanese government - that is why I
did not accept it," said Ellen van der Ploeg, 84, a Dutchwoman who was
taken from a prisoner of war camp in Indonesia and forced to work in a
Japanese military brothel for three months in 1944. "If you have made
mistakes in life, you must have the courage to say, 'I'm sorry, please
forgive me.' But the Japanese government to this day has never taken
"If this were a pure government fund, I could have accepted it," Van
der Ploeg said by telephone from Houten, the Netherlands. "Why should I
accept money from private Japanese people? They were also victims
during the war."
The Japanese government has held up the fund as one way it has tried
to redress a past wrong, even as the U.S. House of Representatives is
considering a resolution that would call on Japan's government to
unequivocally acknowledge its role in the wartime sexual slavery, and
to apologize for it.
Of the former sex slaves who accepted money from the fund, most did
so secretly to avoid criticism. In the four countries where the women,
known euphemistically here as comfort women, were compensated
individually - South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines and the Netherlands
- the women and their supporters were deeply divided over accepting the
Even those who favored accepting the money said the fund reflected
an absence of moral clarity in Japan, an opinion that was recently
reinforced when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denied the Japanese
military's role in coercing women into sexual slavery.
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