During the war, up to 200,000 women and girls were forced into sexual slavery in 'comfort stations' throughout the Asia-Pacific by the Japanese military. The majority of women were under the age of 20 and some were girls as young as 12.
In the lead-up to the anniversary of the end of World War II on 15 August, we campaigned with surviving 'comfort women' and you, our supporters, for the Japanese Government to accept responsibility for the abuses endured by 'comfort women', to officially and unconditionally apologise and provide adequate compensation.
Some good news!
A call has been made on 17 September 2009 for the newly elected Japanese Government to apologise to the thousands of women forced into sexual slavery in World War II, euphemistically known as comfort women.
In a speech to the Australian Senate this week, Victorian Liberal Senator Julian McGauran recounted the war time atrocity and cited the experience of one Dutch-Australian woman, Jan Ruff-o'Hearne, which included the following:
"I appeal to the Prime Minister of Japan, Yukio Hatoyama, to initiate an apology to the comfort women, while many of the victims are still alive.
"For as long as the Japanese Government does not apologise and fully recognise its past actions the injustice remains. An apology would bring these enslaved women and their families some relief and resolution.
"It is time the Japanese Government stepped out from behind its historical cover-up and apologised for what is fact. A 1998 report by the U.N. Human Rights Committee on this issue noted that although Japan has made individual apologies the Japanese Government denies legal liability for the creation and maintenance of the system of 'comfort stations' and comfort women used during World War II.
While many Parliaments around the world have called upon the Japanese Government to make an official apology, the Australian Parliament has not. It is time for Australian Parliamentarians to unite on this issue and apply diplomatic pressure on the Japanese Government for an official and all encompassing apology," Senator McGauran said.
Together, we achieved some inspiring results.
Adopting the 'comfort women' chosen symbol of hope - the butterfly - Amnesty International Australia set up a virtual laboratory that allowed people to create their own online butterfly. With over 11,000 created - many of these appearing across social networks facebook and twitter - we met our aim of covering the world wide web in beautiful butterflies with flying colours.
Each online butterfly created was accompanied by a message to Kevin Rudd urging him to join almost all other Allied countries in calling the Japanese Government to account.
Around Australia, we also asked people to sign paper butterflies on them and send them to the Prime Minister - around 7,000 people joined this action.
In total, over 18,000 Australians sent butterflies to our leaders telling them it's time for Australia to officially pass a motion urging the Japanese Government to recognise and compensate survivors of 'comfort stations' - we hope they're listening!
In addition to our butterfly action, in mid-August Amnesty International supported the visit of 81-year-old ‘comfort woman’ survivor Gil Won Ok of Korea to Canberra through our Human Rights Innovation Fund. This visit was coordinated by Friends of Comfort Women Australia, which also submitted a petition of close to 2,000 signatures to the Federal Parliament.
Grandma Gil was an amazing, eloquent woman who moved parliamentarians and journalists to tears as she appealed for Australia’s support for her cause. With the generous donations provided by supporters through our online butterfly action, we were able to write a huge "Japan Say Sorry" message in the sky above Parliament House next to a giant butterfly at the time of Grandma Gil's visit.
Thank you to all of you who have joined us in asking the Prime Minister to support former 'comfort women' such as Gil Won Ok.
We look forward to getting back to you with more information on the results of our campaign for justice.