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Addressing State Responsibility for the Crime of Military Sexual Slavery during the Second World War: Further Attempts for Justice for the “Comfort Women”

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AbstractBetween 1932 and the end of the Second World War, the Japanese Government and the Japanese Imperial Army forced over 200,000 women into sexual slavery in rape centres throughout Asia. The majority of the victims were from Korea, but many were also taken from China, Indonesia, the Philippines and other Asian countries under Japanese control.There has been no real redress for these injustices: no prosecutions of guilty perpetrators, no acceptance of full legal responsibility by the Government of Japan, and no compensation paid to the surviving victims. The present paper focuses primarily on the issue of state responsibility and the situation of the Korean survivors. The study concludes that Japan has a continuing legal liability for grave violations of human rights and humanitarian law, violations that amount in their totality to crimes against humanity. The study establishes, contrary to Japanese Government arguments, that (a) the crime of slavery accurately describes the system established by the rape centres and that the prohibition against slavery clearly existed as a customary norm under international law at the time of the Second World War; (b) that acts of rape in armed conflict were clearly prohibited by the Regulations annexed to the Hague Convention No. IV of 1907 and by customary norms of international law in force at the time of the Second World War; (c) that the laws of war applied to conduct committed by the Japanese military against nationals of an occupied state, Korea; and (d) that because these are crimes against humanity, no statute of limitations would limit current-day civil or criminal cases concerning the Second World War rape centres.The paper also refutes the argument that any individual claims that these women may have had for compensation were fully satisfied by peace treaties and international agreements between Japan and other Asian States following the end of the Second World War.

Affiliations: 1: Georgetown University Law Center


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