Rep. Honda to press for resolution that Japan opposes

Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) plans to carry retired Rep. Lane Evans’s (D-Ill.) torch, pressing to pass a resolution in the new Congress calling for Japan to formally acknowledge and accept responsibility for sexually enslaving women during World War II.

By taking on the issue, the Japanese-American lawmaker will be prompting intense lobbying activities from the Korean-American community, which last year rallied behind the resolution sponsored by Evans, and from the Japanese government, which opposed the legislation.

Evans, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, retired at the end of the 109th Congress.

The House International Relations Committee passed the controversial resolution last fall. Even though it did not have the force of law, it put the Japanese government on the defensive. Japan argues that it has already apologized and atoned for the treatment of the so-called “comfort women.”

During its occupation of Asia and the Pacific Islands from the 1930s through the duration of WWII, Japan used as many as 200,000 young women from Korea, China, the Philippines and in some cases Western Europe for sexual servitude, a program designed to increase the efficiency and morale of the Japanese soldiers.

The women were subjected to beatings, extreme sexual violence and torture. Often women serviced up to 36 men a day. Many women were killed if they became ill or too tired. Some survivors committed suicide.

Honda’s office is determined to reintroduce the resolution as soon as possible in the new Congress. His staff is working on the legislation, which is going to be similar to the resolution sponsored by Evans and Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.).

“I look forward to seeking the justice the comfort women deserve knowing that Lane Evans blazed much of the trail,” Honda, chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said in a floor statement on the last day of the 109th.

Evans had tried to pass the resolution for four years and managed to secure a promise from now-retired fellow Illinoisan Rep. Henry Hyde (R), former chairman of the International Relations panel, to move the legislation.

But the measure never reached the House floor.

Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), incoming chairman of the panel, supported the resolution last year and is expected to do so again.

A source close to the Korean-Asian community said that Honda, as a Japanese-American taking on the issue, could attract even more support. Honda has been known to take on human-rights issues related to Japan. Honda is not a member of the International Relations Committee.

In 1999, while still in the California state legislature, Honda was successful in passing an assembly joint resolution urging Japan to formally issue a “clear and unambiguous apology for the atrocious war crimes committed by [its] military during World War II.” 

According to materials sent by the Japanese Embassy, the Japanese government has extended official apologies on several occasions. One came in 1994 from then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama during the 50-year commemoration of the war’s end.

Outgoing Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi sent personal letters to former comfort women to extend Japan’s apology and remorse, according to the embassy.

A so-called Asian Women Fund was established in 1995, but supporters of the House resolution said that the fund is private and not a government fund. Tokyo argues that the fund was established with cooperation from the government and the Japanese people, and that the government contributed funds for the organization’s operating costs as well as its medical welfare support projects.

Some of the former comfort women accepted compensation from the Asian Women Fund, but many have rejected it and have held protests in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul.

The Japanese Embassy has been working with Hogan & Hartson as well as Hecht, Spencer and Associates to raise awareness about what it has already done to address the issue.

Some critics of the congressional action say that such a resolution goes beyond asking for an apology. It puts Japan on the defensive and creates tensions between the United States and Japan, America’s top ally in Asia.

“This is not just about comfort women but also about Japan’s alliance responsibility in the international community,” said the source close to the Korean-American community.