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Tuesday, 19 September, 2000, 02:19 GMT 03:19 UK
'Sex slaves' sue Japan
Comfort woman campaigners protest in Washington
Former 'comfort women' are demanding an official apology
A group of 15 Asian women who say they were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese army during World War II have started legal action in the United States against the Japanese government.

The legal suit, filed in the District Court in Washington, marks the first time that former "comfort women" - as they were described by the Japanese army - have sought compensation in the US.


Those who survived suffered throughout their lives as a result of their years as sexual slave

Coalition for comfort women
The women, from China, Taiwan, the Philippines and Korea, are using an 18th-century law that gives foreigners the right to sue in American courts for abuses of international law.

Japan says it has already compensated war victims sufficiently.

An estimated 200,000 women were sent to Japanese military brothels, known as "comfort stations".

Survivors

Although the US court action is seeking unspecified damages, legal experts say the claim is likely to be in the region of tens of billions of dollars.

The Washington Coalition for Comfort Women Issues (WCCW) estimates that there are still between 1,000 and 10,000 survivors of the camps still alive today.

The organisation said it hoped the legal case would encourage more people to come forward.


The Japanese Government has expressed on many occasions its sincere apologies and remorse to the former wartime comfort women

Spokesman Kazuo Kodama
The legal team includes Michael Hausfeld, who helped secure a $5.2bn compensation fund from the German Government and businesses for Nazi slave labour victims during World War II.

The law suit names includes a testimony of one of the "comfort women", a former Seoul resident, Hwang Geum-Joo.

She says that as a 19-year-old, she was drafted to work in what she was told was a Japanese military factory.

But, Ms Geum-Joo says instead she was sent to various "comfort stations" in China, where she claims she was "raped" by up to 40 Japanese soldiers a day.

"Many of the women became so sick that they had yellow pus from their pubic hair to their belly buttons," the suit says.

Ms Geum-Joo is demanding a formal apology from the Japanese Government.

But a Japanese official in Washington said his government had apologised to former comfort women on a number of occasions.

He said the Asian Women's fund founded by the Japanese Government in 1995 was trying to find former comfort women to pay "atonement money" and offer them a letter of apology.

Japan, which officially admitted the existence of the military brothels in 1992, said disbursements have already been made to 170 women.

In 1988, a court in Japan ruled that Korean women were entitled to compensation from the Japanese Government for being forced to act as sex slaves.

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See also:

27 Apr 98 | Asia-Pacific
Wartime 'sex slaves' get compensation
23 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
PoWs fight Japan firms in US courts
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