U.S. House urges Japan to apologize for WWII sex abuses
The Associated PressPublished: July 30, 2007

WASHINGTON: The House of Representatives approved a resolution Monday urging Japan to formally apologize for forcing thousands of women to work as sex slaves for its military during World War II.

The nonbinding resolution is symbolic, but it has caused unease in Japan and added tension to a strong alliance. Officials in Tokyo say their country's leaders, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, have apologized repeatedly for the Imperial Japanese Army's coercion of women into military brothels in the 1930s and 1940s.

The resolution's supporters, however, say Japan has never assumed full responsibility for the treatment of the women.

Representative Tom Lantos, Democrat of California, called "nauseating" what he said were efforts by some in Japan "to distort and deny history and play a game of blame the victim."

"Inhumane deeds should be fully acknowledged," said Lantos, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "The world awaits a full reckoning of history from the Japanese government."

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The House resolution, which has no companion in the Senate, urges Japan to "formally acknowledge, apologize and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner" for the suffering of "comfort women."

Lawmakers want an apology similar to the one the U.S. government gave to Japanese-Americans forced into internment camps during World War II. That apology was approved by Congress and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1988.

The resolution adds to recent woes for Abe, whose party suffered a humiliating defeat in elections over the weekend. Abe caused anger throughout Asia, and among even supporters in Washington, in March when he said there was no evidence that the women had been forced to work as prostitutes.

Historians say hundreds of thousands of women, mainly from Korea, China and the Philippines, were sent to wartime Japanese military brothels.

Representative Mike Honda, Democrat of California and the resolution's chief sponsor, said Lee Yong Soo, a surviving comfort woman who testified before Congress in February of her rape and torture at the hands of Japanese soldiers, watched the proceedings Monday. "All she could do was weep and say thank you," Honda said. "It vindicated her past."

Many rightist Japanese politicians, however, claim that the issue has been exaggerated; they say the term "sex slaves" should not be used to describe the women because they were generally paid.

After decades of denial, the Japanese government acknowledged its role in wartime prostitution after a historian discovered documents showing government involvement. In 1993, the government issued a carefully worded official apology, but it was never approved by Parliament. Japan has rejected most compensation claims, saying they were settled by postwar treaties.