UN body tells Philippines to pay, apologize to ‘comfort women’

THE PHILIPPINE government must fully compensate and issue an apology to so-called Filipino comfort women raped by Japanese solders during World War II for failing to redress the continuous discrimination and suffering they have endured, according to the United Nations (UN).

In a landmark decision, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women said the government had failed “reparation, social support and recognition commensurate with the harm suffered” by these women.

The ruling came after the UN body examined the complaint filed by 24 Filipina members of the Malaya Lolas, a nonprofit group established to support survivors of sexual slavery.

It said the Philippines had “failed to adopt appropriate legislative and other measures to prohibit all discrimination against women and protect women’s rights on an equal basis with men.”

In 2014, the Supreme Court wrote finis to the pleas for diplomatic protection of the World War II–era military sex slaves, as it ruled it could not compel the Philippine government to file a case against Japan for an official apology and reparations.

This is because the Executive department had exclusive prerogative over foreign relation matters, it said.

The victims brought their case to the UN panel to push forward the country’s responsibilities under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The Philippines ratified the convention in August 1981.

“This is a major and serious indictment of the Philippine government for its continued failure to assist Filipino comfort women in their struggle for justice, human dignity, and compensation for the horrible crimes committed by the Japanese Imperial Army,” the Gabriela Women’s Party said in a statement.

“This decision is a ray of hope for our lolas (grandmothers), as this serves as an impetus to push for concrete actions from the government,” it added.

The group said an official apology from the Marcos government was in order.

“Full retroactive compensation and assistance for Filipino comfort women should also be ensured, inasmuch as Filipino male WWII veterans have been receiving indemnity, death pensions and other benefits for years.”

The plaintiffs said that in November 1944, they were forcibly taken to the Japanese headquarters in San Ildefonso, Pampanga in northern Philippines and held for at most three weeks, during which they were repeatedly raped and tortured under inhumane detention conditions.

“They have since then endured long-term physical, psychological, social and economic consequences, including physical injuries, post-traumatic stress, permanent damage to their reproductive capacity and harm to their social relationships in their community, marriage and work,” the UN body said in a statement.

The Philippines has said it had waived its right to compensation when it signed the Treaty of Peace with Japan.

But the UN body said the Philippine Commission on Women had failed to address the institutionalized system of wartime sexual slavery or its consequences. It was also unable to provide the protection needed by survivors.

“In contrast, Philippine war veterans, who are mostly men, are entitled to special and esteemed treatment from the government, such as educational benefits, healthcare benefits, old age, disability and death pensions,” it said.

The commission did not immediately reply to an e-mail seeking comment.

“This case demonstrates that minimizing or ignoring sexual violence against women and girls in war and conflict situations is, indeed, another egregious form of violation of women’s rights,” human rights expert Marion Bethel, who is a member of the UN committee, said in the statement.

“We hope that the committee’s decision serves to restore human dignity for all of the victims, both deceased and living,” she added. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan