Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Dissolution of the Asian Women's Fund
NISHIKAWA Megumi  / Journalist

May 16, 2007
The Asian Women's Fund (formally: the Asian Peace Fund for Women) was dissolved at the end of March 2007. Established in 1995 at the time of the Murayama Cabinet based on a Cabinet decision, the Fund had been engaged in "atonement activities" for women formerly known as "comfort women." While this fund played a certain part, it naturally had a limitation to what it could accomplish. It should be noted, however, that because of this fund, Japan can say to the world "she has not made light of the historic issues."

The Fund had so far provided 364 women from Korea, the Philippines, the Netherlands, and Taiwan who were allegedly forced to serve during the war as "comfort women." with atonement money as well as medical and welfare support. The "atonement money, totaling 565 million yen, was contributed by the Japanese people, while the medical and welfare assistance accounting for 750 million yen was provided by the government. Each and every former "comfort woman" received a personal letter of apology from the Prime Minister as well. In terms of money, it was from 1.2 million to 5 million yen per person. (In addition, in Indonesia, 69 welfare facilities for the aged were constructed in accordance with the wishes of the Indonesian government.)

To our deep regret, however, the people of Japan know little of the atonement work. There are several reasons for this. Since the time the Fund was inaugurated, it had been tossed around by various civil organizations in Japan and the other countries concerned. These civil groups firmly maintained their position that "personal indemnity should be made by the state" and severely criticized it stating that the "atonement work would make the government's responsibility unclear." They cared too much about ethical aspects rather than what the alleged victims really wanted: "Can money buy forgiveness?" "Restoration of dignity is more important than monetary compensation," and the like. This fact made the effect of the "atonement work" unclear and dispersed the people's attention.

For this, the mass-media, where I myself work, should be to blame to a large extent. At the time of fund-raising, they criticized the fund on the side of civil organizations. But as the public attention waned, the newspaper reporting also ebbed like the tide. The media did not report on how the "atonement work" was actually being conducted. It is only natural that people's understanding did not get promoted.

Another reason for the lack of the people's understanding of the "atonement work" is to be found in the insufficiency of the government's moral support for the Fund after it was established. The government was slow in backing the project, perhaps because it was regarded as "a project launched by the initiative of the socialist Premier Tomiiti Murayama's administration." Consequently, most of responsibility and burdens of work were borne by the group of people who actually undertook the "atonement work." In this respect, I strongly regret that the Fund was not based on a Diet resolution.

Generally speaking, however, in contrast to Korea and Taiwan, where the Fund was violently jostled by civil organizations, it played a meaningful role to some extent in the Philippines and the Netherlands. For example, in the case of 79 former Dutch "comfort women," only two persons refused to accept the indemnity. Those responsible for the NGOs of the latter countries who were intermediaries paid more serious consideration to the wishes of the women concerned rather than their own logic, saying that "it should not be we but the women themselves who could decide whether to accept the indemnity or not." This pragmatic attitude helped the "atonement project" in these countries.

Professor Yasuaki Ohnuma of the University of Tokyo, who was one of the directors of the Fund, rightly accepts that there were certain things that the Fund could not achieve in spite of the Fund's qualified achievements. He, nevertheless, points out that the "atonement work" was a new form of indemnity shared by the Japanese government and its people.

At the moment, a draft-resolution on the "comfort women" is being discussed in the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee. There are some extreme views in parts of U.S. Congress and international community that the Japanese government has done nothing about the "comfort women issue." The "atonement work" of the Fund shows that this is not quite so. It also seems to indicate that "historical issues" are something that cannot be redeemed in a black and white manner.

The Writer is Senior Staff Writer at the Mainichi Newspapers.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

西川 恵 / ジャーナリスト

2007年 5月 16日







(筆者は毎日新聞社 専門編集委員。)
一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Dissolution of the Asian Women's Fund