The Decades-Long Struggle of ‘Comfort Women’ for Justice




Sexual Slavery, Sexual Violence, Comfort Women, Victims' Rights, Right to Reparation


During World War II, several thousands of women were forced into sexual slavery, known as ‘comfort women’, by the Imperial Japanese Army in comfort stations throughout Asia. After the war, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East was established in 1946 to prosecute the Japanese war criminals, however, it was the ‘victor’s justice’ and failed to adequately prosecute crimes related to the ‘comfort women’. The truth of ‘comfort women’ remained untold in public until the victims started to speak about their experiences at the establishment of the Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan. Kim Hak-soon, a Korean ‘comfort women’, was testified about her experiences, and it resulted in encouraging other ‘comfort women’ to share their own experiences in 1990s. On the other hand, the Japanese government has continuously denied state responsibility for the ‘comfort women’. In addition, between 1991 and 2001, the ‘comfort women’ from South Korea, China, the Philippines, Taiwan and the Netherlands filed 10 trials against the Japanese government in Japanese courts, however, all the cases were eventually dismissed. In 1996, the Japanese government established an Asian Women’s Fund to provide compensation, medical welfare and letters of apology to the ‘comfort women’, however, the Fund has been criticised by the United Nations due to the lack of the admission of state responsibility. The debate over the ‘comfort women’ lasting to date has shown the complexity of the legal and political issues, causing continuing sufferings to the ‘comfort women’. This research will analyse the historical context of the ‘comfort women’ to identify the reason why these victims are still not able to obtain their rights to reparation and an effective remedy. It will also examine to what extent the development of international law on sexual slavery can contribute to enhance the right to justice and the right to reparation of the ‘comfort women’. I argue that the Japan’s acknowledgement of violations of international law and the inclusion of a victim-oriented and gendered approach into the reparations are crucial.

Author Biography

Erika Miyamoto, University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain

Ms Erika Miyamoto is a doctoral candidate in international law at Barcelona University, Spain, who has been involved with studies on gender-based violence. Erika has completed a Master of Laws in international law at Glasgow University, UK. In 2021, Erika has worked at the Embassy of Japan in Tanzania as a coordinator for economic cooperation.