NEW YORK (July 24) — As the 44th Session of the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) convened, members of Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment (FiRE-NYC), Anakbayan NJ/NY, and Philippine Forum held a silent protest July 23 at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in front of the United Nations to represent the hundreds of surviving Filipina comfort women of World War II.
The protest, despite inclement weather, demanded that Japan finally acknowledge the systematic rape of the wartime comfort women enslaved by the Japanese Imperial Army, and meet the needs of the remaining victims, who are now well into their 70s and older.
“It’s important for these grandmothers to know that their cause is important to Filipino-Americans in the U.S. The trauma of rape and sexual exploitation is something from which our community cannot heal until the Japanese government stops calling these women liars by denying comfort women existed sixty years ago,” said Krystle Cheirs, Secretary General of FiRE.
During WWII, the Japanese Imperial Army is known to have abducted and repeatedly raped a reported 100,000-250,000 young girls and women in Japanese occupied colonies and territories, which included China, Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. Despite Japan being urged by the international community to address and acknowledge the surviving comfort women, neither a public apology nor a confirmation of these systematic war crimes have been issued by the Japanese government.
“To say that this is a non-issue because these rapes by the Japanese Imperial Army happened to women so long ago, makes it seem as if modern day comfort women no longer exist, when they do,” said Valerie Francisco, Chair of FiRE. “The military continues to sexually exploit women in areas surrounding any base in the Philippines, and these foreign officials and their crimes are excused by the Philippine government to maintain relationships with countries whose remittances allow Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s (GMA) devastated economy to stay afloat.”
According to FiRE, in light of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the U.S., more rights are granted to the U.S. military by GMA’s regime, forsaking civilian protection and rights. As a result, cases like that of a Filipina woman named “Nicole,” who was raped by US Lance Corporal Daniel Smith in 2005, was cast aside and her convicted rapist has since returned to the U.S. as a free man.
Irma Bajar, Secretary General of FiRE said, “It’s awful to know that these women, who are as old as my grandmother, are still being overlooked when all they want is to live their last days in peace. If Japan has turned its back on these survivors, and the Philippines supports this treatment with silence, how can I ignore the risk of creating another generation of comfort women in the Philippines or anywhere else in the world?”