The story of 'comfort women' highlights human rights violations

16 Apr 2013 16:38:31.530

PA 116/13

The fascinating story of ‘comfort women’ — the women and girls recruited by force or by deception into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army during the Second World War — will be the focus of a symposium to be staged at The University of Nottingham next week.

The symposium, featuring a filmed testimony from the survivor of a Japanese military ‘comfort station’, will be held in the Sir Clive Granger Building on University Park between 2.30pm and 5.30pm on Wednesday 24 April 2013. The event will be open to the public.

The event has been organised by PhD student Sachiyo Tsukamoto, in the Department of History, who left her home and family in Japan four years ago to study this sensitive issue in more depth.

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‘Comfort women’ were the women and girls forced into sexual slavery to satisfy the desires of the Imperial Japanese Army. Their plight remained secret until the early 1990s when a number of women broke their silence and came forward to tell their story.

Sachiyo — said: “‘Comfort women’ were recruited into sexual slavery for the Imperial Japanese Army between 1931 and 1945. I only heard about their story when I was enrolled in a Tokyo branch of a US-affiliated University in 2007.”

Sachiyo, who was born and grew up in Nagasaki, learned about the dropping of the atomic bomb from her mother. This personal account of what happened on 9 August 1945 had a profound effect on her.

Sachiyo said: “As a second generation ‘Hibakusha’ — survivor of the atomic bomb — I had always thought of our country as a victim and not a perpetrator of war-time atrocities.”

When Sachiyo became a wife and mother she told her children about the tragedy of war and the atrocities inflicted by countries with nuclear powers. At that time she identified herself and Japan as a victim. But she says the story, and plight, of the ‘comfort women’ totally changed her life.

Sachiyo said: “I’ve learned now that every country has a negative, dark side, to its history and it is time to bring these stories out into the open so the same mistakes cannot be made again.”

According to the testimony of one survivor she was forced to ‘service’ up to 30 soldiers every day. The survivor added that some of the sick and malnourished ‘comfort women’ were dumped into a nearby river and left to drown.

Sachiyo said: “I think their suffering was beyond imagination. Their life was so cruel. They were recruited by force or deception. They were used much the same as military equipment — guns and ammunition and forced to accompany the military to the front line as well.”

During her studies as a Master’s student in the School of Politics and International Relations at The University of Nottingham she conducted her research about the ‘comfort women’ issue as her graduation thesis. The significance of this universal human rights issue made her decide to engage in her PhD research in the Department of History.  Last summer, she met several survivors in South Korea when she took part in a study tour organised by Toronto ALPHA based in Canada. Ms Flora Chong, the keynote speaker of the symposium, is the Co-chair of Toronto ALPHA.

Sachiyo said: “This issue is a very, very sensitive subject. One extremely brave Korean survivor broke the silence in 1991 and unearthed this controversial issue. But this issue isn’t restricted to Japan — it is a universal issue. Violence against women is an appalling human rights violation but it happens in peace time in countries across the world. Similar things are happening now — human trafficking, child pornography, sex tourism.”

“I hope the symposium on Wednesday 24 April 2013 will deepen our understanding of this human rights issue. Every country has a very negative, dark side of history which has lessons we can all learn from.”

More information about the programme and registration is available on the symposium website — Re-memory of ‘Comfort Women’’.

In two videos Sachiyo talks about her research and the symposium and why she decided to study this issue in more details.

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Notes to editors: The University of Nottinghamhas 42,000 students at award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. It was ‘one of the first to embrace a truly international approach to higher education’, according to the Sunday Times University Guide 2013. It is also one of the most popular universities among graduate employers, one of the world’s greenest universities, and winner of the Times Higher Education Award for ‘Outstanding Contribution to Sustainable Development’. It is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 75 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong and the QS World Rankings.

More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to the most recent Research Assessment Exercise. The University aims to be recognised around the world for its signature contributions, especially in global food security, energy & sustainability, and health. The University won a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education for its research into global food security.

Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest ever fundraising campaign, will deliver the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. More news…


Story credits

More information is available from Sachiyo Tsukamoto, at The University of Nottingham,
Lindsay Brooke

Lindsay Brooke - Media Relations Manager

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5751 Location: University Park

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