TOKYO — Five former victims of Japan's wartime sex slavery and their supporters submitted hundreds of official documents to the government Monday, demanding Prime Minister Shinzo Abe acknowledge Japan's past atrocity and formally apologize.
Several support groups backing the women, who are from Indonesia, the Philippines and South Korea, said the documents collected from around the world include clear evidence of coercion.
Japan apologized in 1993 over the "comfort women" system of military prostitutes before and during World War II, but it insists there is no proof the women were systematically coerced by the government, citing the lack of official Japanese documents stating so.
The Cabinet in an Abe-led government in 2007 underscored the lack of proof. Abe recently promised Japan won't change its 1993 apology, but is re-examining the study that was the basis of the apology. Neighboring countries have criticized Japan over its review, particularly a re-examination of interviews with former Korean victims, as an attempt to discredit the women and the issue.
"That's a lie. We have evidence. I'm a living proof," said Estelita Dy, an 84-year-old victim from the Philippines who was kidnapped by Japanese soldiers in 1943 when she was 12. "I feel outraged every time I hear people say we were not forced into this. That's why I have to keep telling my story."
She said she was happy to see the new documents and the group's demand to Abe being submitted to the government. Dozens of fellow victims in the Philippines have died, she said, calling for a quick resolution.
The support groups criticized the government for looking the other way since the 1993 apology and now trying to discredit the content of studies under previous governments more willing to atone for Japan's wartime actions. The victims and their supporters demanded Abe officially acknowledge Japan's wartime government and military established and ran the brothel system, and that the women were forced into the system against their will. They also demanded the Abe government disclose all official records related to the issue, conduct an additional investigation and promote education.
Historians say tens of thousands of women from across Asia were forced to provide sex to Japanese soldiers at front-line brothels. Japanese nationalists insist the women were voluntary prostitutes, not sex slaves.
In 1995, Japan set up a private fund that provided 2 million yen ($20,000) each to about 280 women in the Philippines, Taiwan and South Korea, and funded nursing homes and medical assistance for Indonesian and former Dutch sex slaves. In South Korea, more than 200 women came forward and were recognized as eligible recipients, but only a fraction accepted the money due to criticism of the private fund instead of official compensation.
Yang Chingja, a leader of Japanese supporters, said Abe's government has tried to trivialize the issue as a bilateral dispute between Japan and South Korea, instead of a universal problem of sexual abuse of women.
Yoshiaki Yoshimi, a Chuo University historian and a respected expert in the topic, said the 529 documents he and other historians have compiled since 1993 contain proof the Japanese military and the government were directly involved in setting up and recruiting the girls and women from around Asia, often by deception and kidnapping.
More than one-third of the documents came from Japanese Defense Ministry archives. Dozens were obtained from foreign militaries and governments, including U.S., China and Taiwan, and the Netherlands — a former colonizer of Indonesia. A document recently discovered in a Justice Ministry archive showed a cover-up by a military police official using the military budget, Yoshimi said.
He said the women were clearly forcibly taken away and placed under slave-like conditions at the brothels.