- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 19, 2000

Asian women used as sexual slaves by Japan's army in World War II filed suit in District Court yesterday against the Japanese government, seeking unspecified damages.

The filing was announced in the presence of several of the now-aged "comfort women" by lawyer Michael Hausfeld, who successfully sued the German government and German companies on behalf of Europeans who were forced into slavery by Japan's Axis ally, the Nazi Third Reich.

Japan today dismissed the suit, saying it felt that "all issues related to compensation were already settled by postwar treaties," according to a Foreign Ministry official in Tokyo. The official was referring to the 1951 San Francisco peace settlement with the Allies, as well as bilateral agreements with Asian countries, including China, in which they renounced demands for reparations.

"It is up to the plaintiffs to file suit, but as I said, compensation issues were already settled," the official said.

Yesterday's filing comes 69 years to the day after Japan began its aggression in Asia by invading Manchuria. Mr. Hausfeld described the subsequent abuse of Asian women as "mass, systematic, premeditated rape."

"It was hell on earth," said Liu Huan Ar-Tao from Taiwan, one of the women represented in the lawsuit. She had been forced to have sexual relations with 20 Japanese soldiers a day after being transported to Indonesia.

She told reporters that as a 20-year-old woman, she was promised work by a Japanese soldier first as a nurse, then as a cook and was coerced into leaving her homeland.

Twenty-three girls were removed from her hometown; three died on the journey that led them to Bali, Indonesia, where Miss Liu was placed in a hut of coconut leaves and told that she was now part of the Japanese military, subject to military discipline.

It is estimated that between 100,000 and 200,000 women were forced into this form of sex slavery during the war.

Fifteen of the so-called "comfort women" from China, Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines are plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed under the Alien Torts Act, passed by Congress in 1789.

This law enables foreign citizens to file lawsuits against other foreign nationals where "customary international law" has been violated. It was first used in human rights cases in the 1980s.

As required by the act, the Japanese foreign minister is named as the defendant.

Miss Liu, like many others, was physically and emotionally scarred. She lost the sight in her left eye, had her ovaries removed and suffered from numerous diseases.

The mental anguish she and many others also struggled with has been equally tormenting. Following their ordeals, many women returned to their communities where they lived and died in silence, afraid to tell what happened lest they be shunned and unable to marry.

Miss Liu and the others hope that their lawsuit will prompt the Japanese government to accept legal liability, to apologize and pay compensation to all the women involved.

The Japanese government has defeated similar cases at home, instead endorsing the establishment of a private fund that has promised each surviving victim about $20,000 apiece.

It also has offered formal apologies, including one in January 1997 by then-Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, said Kazuo Kodama, spokesman for the Japanese Embassy in Washington.

"We are not saying that is sufficient," Mr. Kodama said of the $20,000 payments, "but this is at least a part of our effort."

The current crusade is led by a team of lawyers, including Mr. Hausfeld, most noted for his successful role in winning $5.2 billion for slave-labor victims from the German government and corporations.

The efforts are backed by many Asian and human rights organizations that also seek compensation for the victims. "This case is long overdue," said Ignatius Ding of the organization Global Alliance.

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