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Saturday, April 28, 2007


East Timor former sex slaves start speaking out 

Kyodo News

Human rights groups in Japan and East Timor have launched a program to donate teaching materials to the newly independent nation about the wartime brothels the Imperial Japanese Army ran there during their occupation of the former Portuguese colony.

News photo
Angelina De Araujo stands with pictures and testimonies of former sex slaves from East Timor recently at the Women's Active Museum on War and Peace in Tokyo. KYODO PHOTO

Based on interviews with 15 former "comfort women," as Japan euphemistically called the sex slaves, and others in East Timor, the groups have set up an exhibition of 50 panels bearing their pictures and testimonies for an exhibition at the Women's Active Museum on War and Peace in Tokyo through May 27.

The groups plan to translate the explanations on the panels into the local East Timorese language, Tetum, so the people can learn about this dark period of their history.

"People in East Timor do not have enough materials to learn their own history," said Akihisa Matsuno, a member of the East Timor Japan Coalition. "We hope we can raise 2 million yen in order to complete the translation and creation of the panels by the summer."

The groups plan to hold seminars for junior high and high school teachers in East Timor and show the panels, which the teachers will be able to use in their history classes, according to Matsuno, who is also a professor at the Osaka University of Foreign Studies.

To help promote the program, the human rights groups recently brought Angelina de Araujo from East Timor, a member of the HAK Association (Association for Law, Human Rights and Justice), to Japan so she could talk to people here about her interviews with the former sex slaves. She spoke in five cities, including Tokyo, Osaka and Sendai.

"I did not know anything about the wartime sex slavery before the interviews, and I felt sad, as a woman, about what they told me," de Araujo, 27, said. "Sometimes I was unwilling to listen to their stories, but I continued the interviews as I believed their history would be terminated if we did not record them."

According to the East Timor study, the Japanese military established brothels for its soldiers all over East Timor after invading what is now indonesia in 1942 and intimidated the local people into providing young women to work in them.

Some of the women said they were not old enough to have started menstruating, yet they were repeatedly raped by the soldiers. One women said the younger girls were afraid of using condoms and did not want to let them enter their bodies as they didn't know what they were.

Another woman told of how she was kept at the house of a high-ranking officer.

"My parents sometimes brought me food, but they never entered the house," the woman said in the report. "They just stood at the door and stared at me while I was inside the house."

"Some of them were initially hesitant to speak out as they felt embarrassed with their past hardships, while some started crying while telling me their stories," de Araujo said.

"But now they have allowed us to display the panels on their testimonies. Now that I have come to know their tough lives, I expect the Japanese government to compensate them."

Interviews were also done with 85 other people who lived through the Japanese occupation and saw the damage the brothels caused.

A former village chief said he had been ordered to find young girls for the brothels.

Another local man made the women, called "sweet girls" in the local language, bathe every day to ensure they would not become dirty.

"The women were unpaid, and they were given neither food nor clothes, so their parents brought them food," the man said in the report. "As for me, I was ordered at the end of every day to clean up the women's rooms, in which condoms were scattered over the floor."

"Many high-ranking Japanese government officials have visited East Timor so far, but none of them has apologized for Japan's wartime acts or referred to compensation," said Kiyoko Furusawa, a member of the East Timor Japan Coalition.

Furusawa, also an associate professor at Tokyo Woman's Christian University, said the government must be sincere in acknowledging its wartime history in East Timor.

East Timor became an independent nation in 2002.

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