"The World and Japan" Database (Project Leader: TANAKA Akihiko)
Database of Japanese Politics and International Relations
National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS); Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia (IASA), The University of Tokyo

[Title] Report on the Activities of the Asian Women's Fund, Five Years After Its Establishment (Distributed to members of the media, during a press conference on the occasion of Mr. Tomiichi Murayama's appointment to the position of President of the AWF )

[Date] September 1, 2000
[Source] Digital Museum: Comfort Women Issue and Asian Women's Fund
[Full text]

The Asian Women's Fund was established through the united efforts of the Government and people of Japan. Its establishment was the result of a decision made by the Japanese Government, which was painfully aware of its moral responsibility for the so-called wartime comfort women issue. The objectives of the AWF are to promote two types of projects - projects expressing the atonement of the Japanese people for the former comfort women, and projects working for the resolution of problems faced by women today.

The Asian Women's Fund has been the object of numerous criticisms since its establishment five years ago, on 19 July 1995. The path taken by the AWF has been strewn with many controversies, not limited to the simple question as to whether the state should pay compensation. In spite of numerous difficulties, the AWF has promoted a number of projects and has achieved some fundamental results, thanks to the encouragement of many donors and Japanese people from various walks of life, and thanks also to cooperation from officials in relevant ministries and agencies of the Japanese Government.

Projects of Atonement

To date, Asian Women's Fund projects of atonement have provided support to 170 former comfort women in the Philippines, the Republic of Korea and Taiwan. In addition, medical and welfare support projects, which are one aspect of the projects of atonement, have provided services to 77 former comfort women in the Netherlands. This makes a total of 247 recipients of support. The AWF is also supporting projects in Indonesia under a program called Promotion of Social Welfare Services for Elderly People.

Each recipient in the Philippines, the Republic of Korea and Taiwan was given a letter of apology from the Prime Minister of Japan when receiving support under the projects of atonement. In his letter, the Prime Minister recognizes that "the issue of comfort women, which involved the Japanese military authorities at that time, was a grave affront to the honor and dignity of large numbers of women," and states that Japan is "painfully aware of its moral responsibility" with regard to all former comfort women "who underwent immeasurable and painful experiences and suffered incurable physical and mental wounds." The letter, signed by the Prime Minister, expresses his "most sincere apologies and remorse" to all such women.

The AWF's projects of atonement consist of three constituent parts. First of all, 2 million yen is given as "atonement money" to each former comfort woman. This money comes from donations from Japanese people who share feelings of apology and remorse. Donations received to date total about 448 million yen. Of this amount, 340 million yen has been provided as "atonement money" to 170 people in the Philippines, the Republic of Korea and Taiwan, leaving a remainder of about 108 million yen.

Secondly, as an expression of its feelings of apology and remorse, the Japanese Government is using its own financial resources to implement, through the Asian Women's Fund, medical and welfare support for each former comfort woman. The monetary amount of benefits takes into consideration the cost of living in each country or region, and is equivalent to 3 million yen per person in the Republic of Korea, Taiwan and the Netherlands, and 1.2 million yen per person in the Philippines. Project objectives include housing improvements, nursing services, and assistance for the provision of medical treatment and pharmaceuticals. The projects are designed to take into account the actual circumstances and wishes of each former comfort woman.

The above-mentioned letter of apology from the Prime Minister of Japan is given to each recipient as the third constituent part of the projects of atonement.

Project Implementation, by Country and Region

I would now like to report on the AWF's projects being implemented in the various countries and region.

In the Philippines, applications are submitted under the assistance of LILA-PILIPINA, a prominent women's group, and the Asian Center for Women's Human Rights (ASCENT), which promotes the human rights of women. The applications are examined by a task force of the Philippine Government called Task Force on Filipino Comfort Women (TFFCW) (composed of officials in departments and agencies of the Philippine Government). Those who have been recognized as former comfort women are provided with "atonement money" by the Asian Women's Fund. The AWF also implements, for their benefit, medical and welfare support projects through the Philippine Government's Department of Social Welfare and Development. Applications are being received steadily and verification procedures are continuing. At the present time, almost 160 applications are in the process of being examined, and we expect that more applications will be made before the deadline, August 2001, a date less than a year away.

In the Republic of Korea, the AWF has not been able to obtain the understanding of the media or activists' groups that are promoting a campaign with former comfort women. The AWF was criticized after projects were implemented for seven people who applied in January 1997, and as a result the projects were temporarily suspended. Projects began again in January 1998, after notices were placed in four of the country's newspapers. Later, the Korean Government began providing public assistance payments, after which the AWF requested, in a letter signed by its former President, Bunbei Hara, that it be recognized that potential recipients could receive both the AWF's "atonement money" and the Korean Government's public assistance payments because the two were different in nature. Negotiations and various developments then transpired, leading to the present suspension of projects in the Republic of Korea, out of respect for the Government's position and public opinion there. The AWF hopes to continue efforts aimed at obtaining understanding for its projects.

In Taiwan, too, the AWF has not been able to obtain the understanding of the authorities or prominent women's groups. Against this backdrop, the AWF is cooperating with a lawyer, Mr. Lai Hao Min, who has stated that the feelings of the former comfort women should be respected. The AWF has designated his Wanguo Law Office as the place where applications for support can be sent. In May 1997, the AWF placed notices in three Taiwanese newspapers. Once a year since then, it has placed the same notices in newspapers in Taiwan, so that as many victims as possible can learn about the AWF's projects, and so that other people, too, will correctly understand the nature and purpose of the projects.

Former comfort women who have accepted support under the AWF's projects of atonement have expressed to us some of their profound emotions.

One Korean victim decided to accept benefits from the AWF , but indicated at first that she was unwilling to meet a Fund representative. However, she later agreed to a meeting. Upon hearing the representative read aloud to her the letter from the Prime Minister, she burst into tears, hugged the AWF's representative, and began to speak through her tears about her experiences as a comfort woman and the suffering she had endured after returning to her own country. From this, we believe that she has completely accepted the sincere expressions of apology and remorse of the Government and people of Japan.

With regard to the Netherlands, on 15 July 1998, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the AWF and the Project Implementation Committee in the Netherlands. Medical and welfare support projects have been implemented under the MOU, on a scale of 255 million yen. Seventy-seven victims have accepted support, and the project is now close to completion.

In his letter to the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Japan's Prime Minister expressed his Government's most sincere apologies and remorse to all former comfort women. The letter was later given to each victim recipient. Some victims sent the Project Implementation Committee their expressions of gratitude and personal messages, and here I would like to quote from one of those letters:

"I thank you for all you have done and are committed to doing for me. I thank you not only for this monetary compensation, but also for having recognized the misery I experienced as a girl of 15. You have softened the pain of a wound that is still open, a wound I have endured through life."

The Indonesian Government indicated that it would not identify any former comfort women, and stated to the Government of Japan that it would like to receive support not in the form of assistance for individual former comfort women, but in the form of social welfare services for elderly people. After this request was relayed from the Japanese Government to the Asian Women's Fund, on 25 March 1997, the AWF concluded a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Social Affairs of the Government of Indonesia. Under the terms of the MOU, financial support for elderly people, amounting to a total of 380 million yen, is to be provided over 10 years. During the first two years of the project, 11 facilities for the elderly were completed, and 124 people are now accommodated there.

Project to Learn from History

The project to learn from history is considered to be an essential element within the AWF's projects of atonement.

The project consists of three components:

1. The AWF collates data from books and journals relating to the comfort women. In September 1997, it published "Ianfu" Kankei Bunken Mokuroku, (List of Documents Relating to "Comfort Women"). This list was later placed in a database and made available through the AWF's website (http://www.awf.or.jp).

2. The AWF has published photoengraved printed versions of comfort-women-related materials obtained during investigations conducted by the Japanese Government. The 5-volume work, entitled Seifu Chousa "Jugun Ianfu" Kankei Shiryo Shusei (Compilation of Government-collected Documentary Materials Relating to Wartime "Comfort Women"), was published between March and July 1997.

3. The AWF also established the Committee for Historical Materials on "Comfort Women." During travel and research in 1996, 1997 and 1998, committee members studied the "Diary of Department of the Army" written by Setsuzo Kanehara held by the National Institute for Defense Studies, documents in the possession of the Okinawa Prefectural Government, and materials at government archives in the U.S., the Netherlands, Germany and Taiwan. During the same period, committee members also conducted interviews in Indonesia and Micronesia. The results of these investigations were included in the AWF's publication, "Ianfu" Mondai Chousa Hokoku 1999 (Collection of Reports of Investigations into Documents Relating to "Comfort Women", 1999, published in February 1999).

Copies of these publications were donated to public libraries in Japan and the countries concerned, and have received the high regard of relevant parties.

Addressing Problems Faced by Women Today

Violence against women and the violation of their human rights are two problems that are as prevalent as before in many parts of the world. Building on Japan's remorse for the past, the Asian Women's Fund is actively involved in efforts to resolve these problems, working for their elimination in society through a variety of projects.

To promote efforts to eliminate domestic violence, the trafficking of human beings, the commercial exploitation of women, the violation of women's rights during armed conflict, and the judicial maltreatment of women, over the last five years the AWF has worked with experts and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Japan and abroad, and has organized international conferences and promoted research, investigations and training sessions in cooperation with local governments, the United Nations, and other international organizations.

To ensure that these numerous activities produce positive results, the AWF issues reports, and produces videos to be used for educational and public awareness campaigns conducted by citizens' groups, local governments and groups of women. The AWF also organizes study sessions with a view to raising the potential of providing aid and relief for women who are victims and currently facing problems.

AWF projects for the dignity of women place importance on understanding and addressing problems by looking at the issues through the victims' own eyes. When we first launched such projects, some NGO representatives could not understand why the AWF was involved, but I believe that after five years of our activities, they are steadily coming to accept our role and the significance of our efforts.

Future Goals of the Asian Women's Fund

With the willingness of the Government and people of Japan to cooperate, the Asian Women's Fund has promoted two types of projects - projects expressing the feelings of atonement all Japanese have toward the former comfort women, and projects addressing problems faced by women today. The AWF hopes that these projects are contributing to the restoration of the honor of former comfort women, and that our efforts will be of some assistance to all women who have been victimized, helping them become self-reliant. The AWF also wants to do what it can so that all those who receive support under our projects of atonement will be accepted without discrimination in society.

AWF projects addressing problems faced by women today have enjoyed the support of many researchers, local governments, media organizations, governments, international organizations and NGOs, and we hope that we can work even closer with such organizations and groups in the future.

The AWF's projects of atonement have still not been completed. We request in all sincerity even greater understanding from the victims, relevant governments and political authorities, and people in general. And we hope that, in places where our projects have been suspended, we will be able to recommence them after obtaining the understanding of governments and relevant associations.

The Asian Women's Fund