Distorted narratives: The Women's International War Crime Tribunal in 2000
Sociology University of Heidelberg Hamburg, Germany
The Asian "comfort women" movement struggles for the moral and financial compensation of an estimated number of 200,000 victims of the Japanese system of military sexual slavery during World War II. Over the last two decades, a number of former comfort women raised their voice in the public on the occasion of press conferences, international and national hearings, and published their stories with the help of civic activists. According to many observers, in this process the comfort women issue has been successfully reframed and transformed from a nationalist and particularistic into a universal narrative of the global women?s and human rights movement. In order to adapt the case of the comfort women to the requirements of international humanitarian laws and global norms, the victims were officially labeled as "Japanese military sexual slaves".
The aim of this presentation is to explore the discrepancy between the subjective identity of former comfort women and their representation in the public discourse. The question is whether they consider themselves as "sexual slaves" as they are officially labeled. Besides, it also will be investigated how they cope with other competing descriptions such as "prostitute", "volunteer to make money", "raped woman", "woman to raise atonement or sympathy money", etc. To answer these questions, this study analyzes the transcripts of the Women's International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan's Military Sexual Slavery (08.-12.Dec.2000). In the Tribunal, 64 survivors from nine East Asian countries (North and South Korea, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, East Timor, Thailand, and Japan) and two Japanese Veterans testified. Meanwhile, prosecutors retroactively and symbolically accused nine former Japanese officers and the Japanese Emperor Hirohito. In a special session, the testimonies of the victimized women from Vietnam, Burma, and other east European countries were also heard by the public. By doing so, the organizers of the Tribunal attempted to highlight the connection between sexual slavery in East Asia and the collective memory of violence against women in different places and times. This interpretation strongly affected the meaning frame of the Asian comfort women movement in the 2000s.