Japan: Siin-Do Song

Siin-Do Song's actions make us realize that the impunity of crimes of violence against women in war should be ended." Yuko Sugiyama

— Siin-Do Song

Telling the story of her experience as a sex slave, Siin-Do Song (born 1923) is paving the way for thousands of women to pursue justice. Siin-Do was one of the "comfort women" to the Japanese military during World War II. Following the war, Siin-Do faced harsh racial and ethnic discrimination as a Korean living in Japan. Using her own name in a culture that forbids talking of such things, Siin-Do filed a lawsuit against the Japanese government asking for an apology and compensation. Her quest for justice is a protest against both sexual violence during the war and racism after it.

The tragedy of Siin-Do's victimization began when she was a young girl growing up in Korea at a time when her country was under Japanese rule. At age 16, she ran away from an arranged marriage on the day of her wedding, and was approached by a Korean woman who told her she could make money if she went to the battlefield of "her nation" (Japan). Siin-Do was taken to China, which had just been invaded by the Japanese. There, she was forced to serve for years as a "comfort woman" in a "comfort station", which meant servicing hundreds of soldiers who would wait in line for their few minutes of rape. When Japan surrendered in 1945, Siin-Do fled China, leaving behind children who were born in a brothel. Supported by various human rights groups, in 1993, Siin-Do filed a lawsuit against the government in the Tokyo District Court. In 1994, she testified at a public hearing of the Asian Tribunal on Women's Human Rights in Tokyo, organized by the Asian Women Human Rights Council and the Women's Human Rights Committee of Japan. The "military comfort women" issue was recognized as a violation of women's human rights. However, in 2003, the Japanese supreme court dismissed her case. An elderly Korean living in Japan, Siin-Do has few social rights–she cannot vote, nor is she entitled to a pension. Although her case has been dismissed, her commitment to public speaking has resulted in widespread awareness of the issue and the empowerment of other survivors of sexual violence. The formation of VAWW-NET Japan, an NGO founded in 1997 to fight for government redress for "comfort women", was inspired by Siin-Do's work. VAWW-NET Japan was responsible for the Women's International War Crimes Tribunal for Sexual Slavery by Japan's Military (2000), which found Emperor Hirohito guilty of war crimes and state responsibilties during World War II.