Geneva - A United Nations human rights agency is calling on Japan to guarantee independent investigations of wartime sex slavery and provide a public apology and compensation to the women who were victims.
Some historians estimate that as many as 200,000 so-called comfort women, many from China and South Korea, were forced into the Imperial Japanese Army's brothels before and during World War Two.
The UN Human Rights Committee, which was reviewing the human-rights records of several countries, said on Thursday that all claims for reparation brought by victims before Japanese courts have been dismissed. It also said all complaints seeking criminal investigations and prosecutions have been rejected on grounds of the statute of limitations.
“The Committee considers that this situation reflects ongoing violations of the victims' human rights, as well as a lack of effective remedies available to them as victims of past human rights violations,” the panel said, citing articles of the UN civil and political rights treaty ratified by Japan.
Last month, South Korea and China both protested against a review by Tokyo of a 1993 apology to the women, which found that Japan and South Korea had worked together on the wording of the apology. Nevertheless, officials from Prime Minister Abe on down have said Japan will not revise the statement.
Japan also said compensation for women forced to work in the brothels was settled by a 1965 treaty establishing diplomatic ties with South Korea. In 1995, Japan set up a fund to make payments to the women from private contributions, but South Korea has said that was not official and so not enough.
The UN committee on Thursday urged Japan to “ensure that all allegations of sexual slavery or other human rights violations perpetrated by Japanese military during wartime against the 'comfort women', are effectively, independently and impartially investigated and that perpetrators are prosecuted and, if found guilty, punished”.
The panel noted that Japan's position was “contradictory:” it says the comfort women were generally recruited and transported through coercion, but they were not “forcibly deported”.
But such acts carried out against the will of the victims meant Japan had a “direct legal responsibility,” said the committee, which is composed of 18 independent experts.
“The Committee is also concerned about re-victimisation of the former comfort women by attacks on their reputations, including some by public officials and some that are encouraged by the state party's equivocal position,” the panel said.
The mayor of the Japanese city of Osaka said in May 2013 that Japan's system of military brothels was “necessary”, drawing outrage in China, where bitter memories of Japan's wartime aggression run deep.
The experts called for “a public apology and official recognition of the responsibility” of Japan. Any attempts to defame victims or deny the events should be condemned, it added.
The UN committee, chaired by British expert Sir Nigel Rodley, also reviewed the records of Chile, Georgia, Ireland, Malawi and Sudan. It is scheduled to give a news briefing at 1130GMT.