Kono statement drafter: No records of military coercion in recruiting 'comfort women'
A former senior official who helped draft the 1993 Kono statement of apology to wartime “comfort women” said no direct evidence was found to support assertions that the Japanese military played a coercive role.
Nobuo Ishihara, a former deputy chief Cabinet secretary, said Feb. 20 that the military’s involvement mentioned in the statement was based on witness accounts, not documents.
“None of the materials available to us backed up the allegations that the Japanese government and military were directly involved in coercive recruitment,” Ishihara said as an unsworn witness at a Lower House Budget Committee session. He was responding to questions by Hiroshi Yamada of the opposition Japan Restoration Party.
Ishihara said the statement was issued at a time when pressure was increasing to strengthen relations with South Korea.
In August 1993, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono released the statement apologizing to former comfort women who were forced to provide sex for Japanese soldiers at front-line brothels during World War II.
The statement acknowledged the Japanese military was involved either directly or indirectly in the installation and operation of “comfort stations,” and the transport of the women.
According to Ishihara, the roots of the Kono statement can be traced back to 1991, when a group of former comfort women from South Korea sued the Japanese government. In response, Koichi Kato, chief Cabinet secretary under Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, released a statement that said Tokyo would not take any action.
South Korea reacted angrily and called for Japanese government investigations into the matter. But the welfare ministry, responsible for handling war-related issues, said it possessed no relevant documents.
Ishihara said he asked other ministries to gather materials on the issue, but no documents turned up showing that the women were forced into the brothels.
Kato announced the findings in another statement, but Seoul called for additional investigations.
After Kono replaced Kato as chief Cabinet secretary, the investigation continued, but still no records were found to corroborate allegations that the women were forcibly recruited.
South Korea asked Japanese officials to listen to what the women had to say.
Tokyo agreed to interview 16 former comfort women in hopes of breaking the impasse and improving relations between the two countries.
“Some of the comfort women testified that government authorities were involved in the recruitment process,” Ishihara said. “We relied on those accounts to finalize the Kono statement.”
Ishihara said despite the women’s testimonies, Japan still did not have any definitive materials to back up their allegations.
“We settled on the expressions that we used in the (Kono) statement because we decided it could not be ruled out that government authorities were involved with the recruiting agents,” he said.
Ishihara said the testimonies revealed that recruitment was undertaken mostly by agents, and that there was a possibility that government or military authorities were involved in the recruiting process.
“We never admitted the recruitment was based on direct instructions from the Japanese government and military,” he said. “No corroborative probes took place afterward to verify the facts of the testimonies. We were not in an atmosphere where we could have opened corroborative investigations. We were not in an atmosphere where we could have asked to do so.”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in attendance at the Lower House Budget Committee session.
When he was serving his first stint as prime minister in 2007, his Cabinet approved a document that said, “There was no mention in the documents, discovered by the government before it announced the investigation results on the same day (it released the Kono statement), that directly pointed to so-called forcible transport (of the women) by the military or government authorities.”
His current administration has come under fire from South Korea and China over territorial issues and perceptions of events before and during World War II.