The Philippines Violated the Rights of WWII Comfort Women, the UN Concludes
On March 8, the United Nations (UN) Women's Rights Committee ruled that the Philippines “violated the rights” of Filipino women who were forced into sexual slavery by the the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II. Also known as comfort women, these survivors were failed by the Philippine government and were found to have received little-to-no social support and recognition.
On International Women’s Day, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women wrote a 19-page decision in response to the complaint filed by 24 Filipino comfort women back in 2019. They are part of the non-profit organization “Malaya Lolas (Free Grandmothers),” which offers support for sexual slavery survivors. The complaint asked the UN to intervene and "urge" our government to provide them with "full and effective redress and reparation, including compensation, satisfaction, official apologies, and rehabilitative services.”
The UN committee, in turn, recommended that the complainants should receive "full reparation, including recognition and redress, an official apology and material and moral damages" from the state. They also concluded that the Philippines breached the obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
“This is a symbolic moment of victory for these victims who were previously silenced, ignored, written off and erased from history in the Philippines," Committee member Marion Bethel said. "The Committee’s Views pave the way for restoring their dignity, integrity, reputation and honor.”
She added: “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. We hope that the Committee’s Decision serves to restore human dignity for all of the victims, both deceased and living."
The committee recommended the following actions to be taken by the Philippine government:
- Ensure that the complainants receive from the Philippine government full reparation, including financial reparation proportionate to the physical, psychological, and material damage suffered
- Establish an effective, nationwide reparation scheme to provide all forms of redress to survivors of war crimes including sexual violence. It must ensure equal access for male war veterans and female survivors of sexual slavery to social benefits.
- Ensure that authorities remove restrictive and discriminatory provisions from laws and policies related to redress for civilian victims of war, including survivors of wartime sexual violence
- Establish a government fund to provide compensation and other forms of reparation to comfort women
- Create a memorial to preserve the site of Bahay na Pula, or establish another space to commemorate the suffering inflicted to the survivors
- Mainstream the history of Filipino women survivors of wartime sexual slavery in curricula of all academic institutions to avoid recurrence
The Red House
Mass rapes and murders by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II were committed at the site.
Complainants Natalia Alonzo and 23 other women were kidnapped and taken to the Bahay na Pula (Red House) in San Ildefonso, Pampanga, which was then the Japanese headquarters. There, the women were "repeatedly subjected to rape, other forms of sexual violence, torture and inhumane detention conditions" by Japanese soldiers for up to three weeks, in extreme cases.
Since then, the women have 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 survivors have repeatedly asserted their claims locally, asking the Philippine government to fight for reparations from the Japanese government. Unfortunately, these requests have fallen on deaf ears, considering that state officials have consistently dismissed these claims, doing so on three separate occasions. Their final action was in 2014, but was ultimately denied by the Supreme Court. Authorities argue that the Philippines had already waived its rights to compensation after the Treaty of Peace with Japan in 1956.
This is a stark contrast to the treatment mostly male Filipino war veterans have received over the years. Veterans get educational benefits, senior citizen benefits, and disability and death pensions, among others.
The Palace has yet to respond to the matter as of this writing.