Adelaide "comfort woman" seeks Japan apology

An Adelaide Catholic grandmother, Jan Ruff-O'Herne, who was forced to become a sex slave for Japanese soldiers during World War II, has addressed the US Congress in a new bid to obtain a formal apology from the Japanese government for war atrocities.

The Southern Cross reports that Ms Ruff-O'Herne flew to Washington DC at short notice on 12 February at the invitation of speaker of the house Nancy Pelosi.

Two days later, the grandmother and Kingswood parishioner was delivering a short address to Congress on the plight of "jugun ianfu" or "comfort women", military sex slaves forced to work in brothels on the Pacific battle front during the conflict.

Korean comfort women Lee Yong-Soo and Kim Gun-Ja also testified before the Asia-Pacific subcommittee in an unprecedented move for the victims of such crimes.

Pelosi and Japanese-American congressman Mike Honda want to pass a new resolution which will hold the Japanese government accountable and put heavy diplomatic pressure on the country to officially say sorry.

Resolutions on comfort women have been tabled before but have never been passed. The latest, with the backing of Pelosi, is thought to have a far better chance.

Mrs Ruff-O'Herne, who has championed the cause of comfort women since finally telling her story in 1992, told The Southern Cross the trip was the most important moment so far in what is a deeply personal campaign.

"Although my health is not 100 per cent and I'm 84 years old now I feel this is the most important thing for me to do and I have to do it," she said.

"This will have more influence and impact on Japan than all the other things that I've done and Japan might listen - I must see this one through.

"We hope it will make a difference this time because of where it comes from. It's very important that it comes from the US Congress.

"I'm just hoping God will be with me."

In early 1944, Mrs Ruff-O'Herne, then a 21-year-old of Dutch heritage living in Indonesia, was captured and for months was raped and abused countless times by Japanese troops.

But after the war, the horrific nature of her ordeal forced her into a silence she kept for half a century.

Inspired by the courageous struggle for compensation and an apology by three Korean comfort women, Mrs Ruff-O'Herne finally spoke of her experiences at an international hearing on war crimes in Tokyo.

In 2002 Mrs Ruff-O'Herne became the first Australian to receive the second-highest honour from the Pope, the Dame Commander of the Order of St Sylvester.

She was recognised for her advocacy for women imprisoned and abused in war, and her Christian virtue and faith.

We want an apology (Southern Cross, 1/3/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Archdiocese of Adelaide
Comfort women (Wikipedia)

Long road to justice for Japan's WWII "comfort women" (CathNews, 14/2/07)
Papal honour for war rape heroine (CathNews, 9/12/02)
Papal honour for Adelaide human rights advocate (CathNews, 23/7/02)


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