Comfort Women: Japan

Filipino Comfort Women

Filed: April 2, 1993

On April 2, 1993, eighteen comfort women from the Philippines filed a class action lawsuit with the Tokyo District Court to seek 360 million from the Japanese government.  As of April 1993, 44 Filipinas had come forward claiming to be former comfort women but lawyers and the non-governmental task force were able to document only 18 of the cases by the time of the lawsuit.  The women claimed to have been forced to serve as prostitutes for Japanese soldiers during World War II.  Among the women were Rosa Henson and Julia Porras.  They represented the eighteen women by arriving in Tokyo to hold a press conference while speaking publicly about their experiences as comfort women.  The 18 women plaintiffs also called on the Japanese government to include information about comfort women in school textbooks so that the younger generation of the Japanese would know of their plight. 

The lawsuit was the first to be filed by former comfort women from the Philippines against the Japanese government.  Each of the women demanded 20 million in compensation from Tokyo.  According to the lawsuit, Julia Porras claimed that she and other Filipino women worked as maids for the Japanese soldiers at an air raid shelter on Mindanao Island and were forced to have sex with them for about eight months starting in November 1944.  Porras stated that she was 13 in late 1944 when the Japanese military attacked her village and abducted her with several other young women.  She also stated that she was taken to an underground tunnel and held captive until they were liberated by the Americans.  She claimed that dozens of Japanese soldiers visited the tunnel every day and raped her.  According to Porras, she was only fed a bowl of rice three times a week with some canned vegetables.  She further said that no clothing was provided for her, so she always had to wrap an army towel around her body.  She also claimed that she narrowly escaped beheading by the Japanese soldiers who tried to escape from the Americans.  She alleged that although one of the Japanese soldiers was waiting with a sword in his hand, another Japanese soldier told him to stop the killing. 

Henson, who was the first Filipino woman to come forward as a comfort woman, stated that the Japanese soldiers forced her into prostitution at the age of 14 for nine months after taking her from central Luzon Island in February 1942. 

The class action lawsuit argued that the Japanese government was obliged to compensate the women because sexual slavery violated the 1907 Hague Treaty and international rules that protect civilians in military-occupied territories.  Japanese civil laws and Philippine domestic laws were also invoked in the suit.

On October 9, 1998, the Filipino women’s claims were dismissed by the decision of the Tokyo District Court (Japanese text of the court's decision) and the only fact found was Japan's military occupation of the Philippines.  In his ruling, Judge Yoriaki Ichikawa, who presided over the case at the Tokyo District Court, dismissed the plaintiffs' argument that Tokyo owed them compensation under the 1907 Hague convention on the laws and customs of war on land (Japan became the signatory to the Hague Convention in 1912).  Judge Ichikawa said that the convention only defined compensation obligations "between states, and did not provide for individual victims the right to seek compensation from a state."  He stressed that no international common law existed that would support the plaintiffs' demand and stated that even if the Japanese military's act constituted a crime against humanity as the plaintiffs claimed, that fact alone did not offer a legal basis for obligating the Japanese government to compensate them through a civil proceeding.  The judge then emphasized that the right to make claims had already lapsed under Japanese law, since the case was brought before the court more than 20 years after the end of World War II, exceeding the statute of limitations.  Finally, he stated that Japan and the Philippines abandoned any claims for compensation from each other with Japan's payment of war reparations stipulated in the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty.

The Filipino women appealed to the Tokyo High Court on October 23, 1998 claiming that the Japanese government had an obligation to compensate the women because sexual slavery was outlawed under a 1907 treaty and by international rules governing the treatment of civilians under military occupation.

On December 6, 2000 the Tokyo High Court upheld a lower court's rejection of the US $8.4 million compensation claim against Japan filed by 46 Filipina women (Japanese text of the court's decision).  In his ruling, presiding judge Masato Niimura stated that in the light of international law, individuals were not entitled to seek compensation from national governments and that the deadline for filing compensation claims had already expired.  He further stated that international law did not apply to individuals seeking compensation and thus covered only redress settlements between nations.

The final appeal was made by the women on December 20, 2000. On 25 December 2003, however, the Supreme Court rejected the appeal, and the case was closed.