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Comfort Women Still Scarred a Half Century Later

November 26, 1994 GMT

GENEVA (AP) _ Confined to tiny cubicles, fed scraps, forbidden to talk to others, repeatedly raped, often beaten and left untreated for rampant venereal disease, tens of thousands of women spent World War II as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers.

Their wartime ordeal was ignored for nearly 50 years, in part because the women, many of whom were teen-agers in the 1940s, were ashamed to speak out. Often feeling they were somehow to blame for being ″comfort women,″ they were ostracized by family and friends and afraid to marry.

Now in their 60s and 70s, the women are telling their stories. They have little to lose. Many live on the margins of society, ill and with no families to support them.

Their stories were told in a report issued last week by the International Commission of Jurists, a U.N. human-rights group based in Geneva. More than 40 victims and three former soldiers talked to the two legal experts who compiled the report.

Among those who talked was Gertrude Balisalisa of the Philippines, whose life was destroyed by her sexual servitude.

The horror began when she was grabbed by soldiers who threatened to kill her two babies. ″The choice was either to do it or to die,″ she recalled.

She was taken to an army barracks where for the next 14 months she was raped daily, by the barracks commander and his friends, she said.

She was also beaten and kicked and suffered ″severe constant pain″ from the unrelenting sex, but never received medical treatment.

″Many times I would hear other women in that comfort station screaming and crying out in pain. But I was never allowed to go and see or talk to any of them. I wanted to scream myself several times but I refrained for fear that they would inflict more harm and injury on me,″ she said.

″I wanted to live at any cost so as to see my two little daughters.″

After the war, her husband called her a ″left-over.″ Then, ″one day when I had gone out marketing, I returned to find the house empty.″

Her husband sent the children to live elsewhere. ″I have not seen them since the day my husband sent them away,″ she said.

Now Ms. Balisalisa, who once studied to be a lawyer, barely supports herself by tutoring schoolchildren, and lacks money for medical treatment.

″I had locked the secret away in the bottom of my heart,″ she said, but decided to speak out after seeing on television another woman tell of her suffering.

That decision cost her income because parents of some of her pupils refused to let them continue with her.

All she wants, she says, is some help from the Japanese government. ″I have lived a life of utter misery and suffering due to no fault of my own.″

The Japanese government has refused to pay Mrs. Balisalisa or any other woman individual compensation. It was only last year that Japan admitted responsibility for the network of brothels.

As many as 200,000 women from Korea, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia and the Netherlands were enslaved by the Japanese military.

The idea of ″comfort stations″ was part of Japanese society. During the 1930s, licensed prostitution thrived, creating ″an atmosphere in which men saw it as their right to have women to gratify their sexual pleasure,″ the jurists said.

The impetus for the brothels probably came from the international outcry following the 1937 ″Rape of Nanking,″ in which Japanese soldiers ransacked the Chinese city and committed widespread rape. The military view was that ″soldiers were entitled to rape women as part of their payment for being soldiers,″ the report noted.

But ″conscious of its image″ and anxious to avoid revenge killings, the Japanese Imperial Army created brothels in China to avoid further mass rapes, according to military documents.

One soldier, Kouki Nagatomi, confirmed the account. In 1938, he said, he followed orders to establish a brothel in China, with Chinese women. Nagatomi and other soldiers said they spoke out because the Japanese government falsely claimed it had not been involved.

In the aftermath of the war, the Allies failed to prosecute those responsible, the jurists said.

The Allies had ″extensive documentary and other evidence immediately after the war about the comfort stations, the manner in which the women were recruited, and the vicious nature of the control the Japanese military had over the women,″ the experts’ report said.

Yet none of these crimes were tried, except for those committed against 35 Dutch women who had been exploited in Indonesia. Several Japanese military officials were convicted in that case.

″Sadly, the local Indonesian women, who had been similarly victimized, were ignored,″ the report commented. This was also the case for the many women of other nationalities who were coerced into prostitution.

″Human rights violations on such a gigantic scale were simply ignored by all those who could have done something,″ the report concluded.