Saturday, February 24, 2018
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Former comfort woman Ines Magalhaes Gonçalves travelled to Japan late last year to give testimony at an international conference on human rights about the crimes committed against her by Japanese soldiers in Timor-Leste during World War II (1942-1945).

Former comfort woman Ines Magalhaes Gonçalves travelled to Japan late last year to give testimony at an international conference on human rights about the crimes committed against her by Japanese soldiers in Timor-Leste during World War II (1942-1945).

Mrs Gonçalves’ son, Leonel Barreto, who accompanied her to Japan, said she also called on the Japanese government to officially recognize the crimes committed during this time.

Former comfort women from Korea, Indonesia and the Philippines also attended the conference – part of efforts to hold the Japanese government to account and formally apologize to all victims.

“At this (conference) mother said: ‘I am not coming here to find something good, to take a plane to see a beautiful city, but I come here to find justice and the truth,’” he said at Dili airport after returning from Tokyo.

He also thanked the Timor-Leste Human Rights Association (HAK) and the Japanese Coalition to Timor-Leste for encouraging former comfort women to share their stories at conferences in Tokyo and Korea last year.

Barreto said former comfort women received no social assistance from the Timor-Leste government to date, although his mother had received some support from HAK and the Japanese coalition.

After being forced to become a comfort woman for Japanese soldiers Mrs Gonçalves fell pregnant, but the baby died. After the war ended she married and had another four children.

She is now 85 years old and lives in Obulu suku (village) in the Atsabe administrative post in Ermera municipality.

During World War II the Japanese military occupied Timor-Leste and imposed a system of forced labor for road construction and agricultural crops, while many local women were kidnapped from their families and forced to work as sexual slaves (known as comfort women) for soldiers.

In 2000, Marta Abu Bere, another former comfort woman, also testified at the same conference in Tokyo to highlight the human rights violations that occurred in Timor-Leste and the lack of positive action to date from the Japanese government.

Meanwhile, HAK representative Marina Galucho said it was opportunity for the victims to meet with Japanese government officials and other human rights activists in South East Asia to talk about the situation facing former comfort women.

“The Japanese government should acknowledge the human rights violations that were committed by their soldiers against the women of South East Asia,” she said.

With the support of the Japanese coalition, Galucho said 18 former comfort women had been registered across the country, although eight have died and survivors continue to live in vulnerable conditions.

Although the Japanese government accepted the recommendations made by former comfort women attending the conference, she said it had yet to offer any clear response to the issue.

In 2015, the Japanese government formally apologized and paid compensation to former comfort women from Korea, but it is yet to offer the same recognition to victims from other countries.

HAK is continuing to work with regional civil society networks with support from Japanese activists to advocate on behalf of victims and urge the Japanese government to accept responsibility.

However, the Secretary of State for the Socio-Economic Support of Women (SEM), Veneranda Lemos, said the Timor-Leste government must also share responsibility. 

She said the government was now in the process of revising the national action plan on gender-based violence and would also integrate this issue for further advocacy.

“With the revisions that we have made to the national action plan on gender-based violence, we can now include issues like this in the program for the next five years,” she said. 

In its recommendations, the Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) called on the government to look at the issue and push the Japanese government to formally recognize victims.

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