Rep. Mike Honda with former comfort woman L33.
Rep. Mike Honda with former comfort woman Yong-Soo Lee, who was his guest in the House Gallery during Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s address to Congress.

WASHINGTON – Rep. Mike Honda (D-Santa Clara), chair emeritus of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, made the following statement April 29 about Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s speech to a joint meeting of Congress:

“It is shocking and shameful that Prime Minister Abe continues to evade his government’s responsibility for the systematic atrocity that was perpetrated by the Japanese Imperial Army against the so-called ‘comfort women’ during World War II, by not offering an apology during his speech today.

“Today, he said Japan ‘must not avert our eyes’ from the suffering of the Asian countries, and that he upholds his predecessors’ views. Yet, he refused to explicitly mention the ‘comfort women,’ nor their sexual enslavement. Today’s refusal to squarely face history is an insult to the spirit of the 200,000 girls and women from the Asia-Pacific who suffered during World War II. This is unacceptable

“He also said in today’s speech, ‘In our age, we must realize the kind of world where finally women are free from human rights abuses.’ I agree with him completely. But without acknowledging the sins of the past, history will repeat itself.

“Yesterday, Prime Minister Abe claimed to be ‘deeply pained to think about the‘comfort women” who experienced this suffering. But, his pain is nothing compared to the 70-year-long torment of justice denied.

“Having waited these seven decades for an honest and humble apology, 87-year-old Ms. Yong-Soo Lee traveled from Korea to be my guest in the House Gallery today. My heart breaks for Ms. Lee and her sisters, as she must now return to Korea without having received an apology from Prime Minister Abe.”

On April 23, Honda sent a letter to Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. Kenichiro Sasae, asking him to urge Abe to use the visit to Washington to “lay the foundation for healing and humble reconciliation by addressing the historical issues.”

The letter points out that 2015 is the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, and says that the signees “fervently hope Prime Minister Abe will take advantage of this auspicious milestone during his visit to Washington to enhance Japan’s relationships with its neighbors through a vision of long overdue healing and reconciliation which will contribute to future-oriented cooperation.”

The letter, which is co-signed by 24 members of the House from both parties, adds, “we are at a critical juncture in America’s rebalance to Asia, and we firmly believe that enhanced cooperation between the United States, Japan, and Korea will serve as a linchpin of peace and prosperity throughout the Asia-Pacific region and the broader global community.”

Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, made the following statement ahead of Abe’s speech:

“Mister Speaker: I rise today to express my deep concern for women around the world who are targeted victims of violence. It is estimated that one out of every three women around the world will be beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. Women in areas of conflict are in even more danger. We know that rape and sexual assault are tools of war used around the world to terrorize entire communities.

“Displaced, refugee and stateless women are at an increased risk of violence, and they are often forced to exchange sex for food and humanitarian supplies. These tactics are not new; they have been used as tools of war throughout the centuries and these despicable practices have been ignored for far too long.

“Today, sitting in the House Gallery, is Grandmother Yong Soo Lee, a courageous survivor of war. In the 1930s and 1940s, women and girls were forced to provide sexual services for Japanese soldiers. These women are known as comfort women, and Grandmother Lee is one of the few remaining survivors still alive.

“Every country, including our own, has made mistakes in the past. At one time or another, each country has had to apologize for actions unbefitting its values and principles.

“Since the end of World War II, Japan has been one of the United States’ most important allies and we have enjoyed a successful partnership based on respect and cooperation. However, the historical record on comfort women must be universally accepted, without wavering on the horrific details.

“In 1993, then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono apologized to the victims and admitted responsibility by the Japanese military. Despite this apology, in the past 12 years, government officials have made statements that seem to call the Kono Statement into question. These discrepancies are an impediment to a successful trilateral relationship between the United States, Japan, and the Republic of Korea.

“Prime Minster Shinzo Abe’s scheduled address to a joint meeting of Congress next week is a landmark moment for U.S.-Japan relations. I look forward to hearing Prime Minister Abe speak and it is my hope he use this opportunity clarify any remarks that have been interpreted as a revocation of the Kono Statement.”

Rep. Judy Chu (D-Pasadena), chair of the CAPAC, who attended the speech, issued the following statement:

“While I am grateful that the prime minister acknowledged the suffering of Asians at the hands of Japanese soldiers during World War II, I am incredibly disappointed that he failed to directly address the problem of comfort women. Despite numerous pleas from members of Congress and many others around the world – including countries whose citizens were the victims of Japan’s wartime program – I sat and listened to him once again ignore Japan’s responsibility for this particularly troubling and painful chapter.

“As the prime minister said, it is a tragic reality that women are the ones who usually suffer the most in war. But healing these wounds requires honesty and an admission of responsibility. Shirking that responsibility and attributing it instead to the cost of war amounts to a pardon of those who made decisions to dehumanize these women and is license to future generations to use war as an excuse.

“The prime minister said that Japan’s eyes are always on the road ahead, and I appreciate that he has acknowledged the pain of these victims, but without responsibility and remorse, it is impossible to move forward.”

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