A U.S. House committee passed Thursday the first resolution ever holding Japan accountable for sexual enslavement of women during its colonial occupation of Asia in the past century.
The International Relations Committee endorsed H.Res. 759 in a consensus vote to say Japan should unambiguously acknowledge and accept responsibility for enslaving young women, known as "comfort women."
Two previous resolutions on comfort women, submitted in 2001 and last year, had been shelved mainly due to Japanese lobbying.
The committee also passed the North Korea Nonproliferation Act of 2006, H.R. 5805, that allows U.S. sanctions against foreign individuals abetting Pyongyang's weapons of mass destruction programs.
This measure, already adopted unanimously by the Senate, follows North Korea's missile launches in July and a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Pyongyang's action as a provocation.
Comfort women is an euphemism for hundreds of thousands of women Japan abducted or lured into frontline brothels to provide sex for Japanese soldiers during the war years. Most of the victims were Korean women, whose country was colonized by Japan from 1910-1945.
The Japanese government has admitted that such women existed but denies to this day its imperial government was directly involved in operating the brothels.
Rep. Lane Evans (D-Illinois) and Rep. Chris Smith (R-New Jersey) jointly submitted the resolution in April, a showcase of bipartisan support on a sensitive issue given strong U.S.-Japanese relations.
Evans took interest in the issue through a Korean friend, and the resolution carries extra weight for the congressman, who retires next year because of Parkinson's disease.
The resolution has "the importance of re-urging the government of Japan to apologize and deal with problems that comfort-women victims deal with all the days of their lives," Evans told Yonhap as he was going into the committee session.
"(It) means a victory for the women of that generation who were so brutalized that they will never have the full, inviolable rights that you did when you were growing up," he said.
The final resolution, however, contains some tone-downed language.
Included were two clauses noting Japan had expressed apologies in 1995 for the comfort women and established an Asian Women's Fund as "atonement" to the victims in South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia and the Netherlands.
Rather than say Japanese officials "praised" the removal of the term "comfort women" from Japanese textbooks to whitewash the issue, the final resolution says "some" officials "have publicly advocated" the removal.
Instead of saying Tokyo should "formally acknowledge and accept responsibility" for the sexual enslavement, the final version says Japan should "unambiguously" do so. It also drops words "against humanity" in describing enslavement as a "horrible crime."
But the gist remains, including a clause that calls the comfort women tragedy "one of the largest cases of human trafficking in the 20th century."
The resolution says the Japanese government "permitted" the Imperial Army to directly organize subjugation and kidnapping of young women for sexual servitude.
It also urges Japan to educate current and future generations about the comfort women.
The nonproliferation act builds on legislation already in place against Iran and Syria to sanction persons who transfer missiles, nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or any related material and technology to North Korea.
It also urges all nations to impose similar measures.
Washington, Sept. 13 (Yonhap News)