The UN women’s rights committee has found that the Philippine government violated the rights of victims of sexual slavery perpetrated by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) issued its decision after examining a complaint filed by 24 Filipina nationals who were members of the Malaya Lolas, a non-profit organization that provides support to sexual slavery survivors.
On 23 November 1944, complainants of this case, Natalia Alonzo and 23 other victims, were forcibly taken to the Bahay na Pula (Red House), the Japanese headquarters in San Ildefonso, Pampanga. They were detained in the Red House for one day to three weeks, where they were repeatedly subjected to rape, other forms of sexual violence, torture and inhumane detention conditions.
They have since then endured long-term physical, psychological, social and economic consequences, including physical injuries, post-traumatic stress, permanent damage to their reproductive capacity and harm to their social relationships in their community, marriage and work.
They asserted that they had consistently raised their claims at the domestic level, requesting that the Government of the Philippines espouse their claims and their right to reparations against the Government of Japan.
Their repeated efforts, however, were dismissed by the authorities, with their last action turned down by the Supreme Court in 2014. The Philippines’ Government has always maintained that it is not in a position to claim compensation from Japan after ratifying the Treaty of Peace with Japan in 1956.
The CEDAW decision noted that the Philippine government had waived its right to compensation by signing the Treaty of Peace with Japan. However, it underlined that it is a case of continuous discrimination against the victims.
The Committee observed that the Philippine Commission on Women had not addressed the institutionalized system of wartime sexual slavery, its consequences for victims and survivors, or their protection needs.
In contrast, Philippine war veterans, who are mostly men, are entitled to special and esteemed treatment from the government, such as educational benefits, healthcare benefits, old age, disability, and death pensions.
Given the extreme severity of gender-based violence suffered by the victims and the continuing discrimination against them regarding restitution, compensation, and rehabilitation, the Committee concluded that the Philippine government had breached its obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in supporting the non-discrimination of women and girls on its territory.
In particular, the Committee found that the State party had failed to adopt appropriate legislative and other measures to prohibit all discrimination against women and protect women’s rights on an equal basis with men.
The Committee has requested that the Philippine government provide the victims full reparation, including material compensation and an official apology for the continuing discrimination.
Marion Bethel, a committee member, said that the ruling was a symbolic victory for the victims who were previously silenced, ignored, and erased from history in the Philippines.
She added that the Committee’s decision paved the way for restoring their dignity, integrity, reputation, and honour.
In recent years, similar cases have been filed by comfort women survivors in other countries, including South Korea, who have also sought reparations from Japan.