TOKYO (AP) — A tearful Philippine woman recounted Sunday how she was kidnapped by Japanese troops during World War II and coerced into sex slavery, as she and her supporters gathered to demand Japan do more to bring justice to former “comfort women.”
Estelita Dy, 83, and her supporters met in Tokyo as part of events by the group to commemorate the day the first victim of Japanese sex slavery came forward on Aug. 14, 1991, and helped lay the groundwork for other victims, including Dy, to come out.
Dy’s supporters and rights groups are trying to gain international support to have Aug. 14 become a United Nations-recognized memorial day, as a way to pressure Japan to do more to take responsibility for wartime sex slavery. The day falls just one day before Japan’s Aug. 15 end-of-war anniversary.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has backpedaled from Tokyo’s past apologies, saying there’s no proof Japan’s wartime government coerced women into prostitution for the Japanese Imperial Army.
At Sunday’s meeting, Dy’s supporters, including rights activists, criticized Abe’s government for its rejection of a U.N. human rights panel’s recommendations earlier this year urging Japan to more seriously take responsibility for sex slavery, better educate the public and take steps to bring justice for the victims. Rechilda Extremadura, a Philippine member of Dy’s support group, said Dy and others are the “living witnesses” of sex slavery.
Historians say there were as many as 200,000 sex slaves from across Asia, most of them Koreans.
In a tearful speech, Dy said she was kidnapped by Japanese soldiers when she went to a market to sell vegetables in her hometown on the Philippines’ Negros island in the autumn of 1944, when she was 14.
Dy, spotted by the soldiers, who were searching for guerrillas, desperately ran to escape, but fell down and was caught, pushed into a truck and taken to a nearby “comfort station,” where she was repeatedly raped for three weeks until American troops rescued her.
She later had a family, but kept her past secret until 1993, when she heard news about sex slavery on the radio.
“At first, I was too embarrassed to reveal my past. But I decided to do so because it would be the only way I could get my lost dignity restored,” Dy said. “I renounce war, because its victims are always women and children.”
Dy wouldn’t have revealed her past if Kim Hak-soon had not come forward two years earlier, detailing how she was abducted and forced to carry ammunition for Japanese soldiers by day and serve as a prostitute at a military-run brothel by night at age 17.
Kim’s testimony helped break the silence and brought forth more former sex slaves, known as “comfort women.” An advocacy group was formed to demand compensation from the Japanese government.
Former U.N. Under-Secretary-General Anwarul Chowdhury, who also attended Sunday’s meeting, said Kim is “a global symbol” who has helped raise international awareness and support for her cause.
Chowdhury, who was behind a landmark 2000 U.N. resolution on the rights of women and children in conflict, said he would support the group’s campaign for a U.N. memorial day.