EDITORIAL: Human rights are not political tools

The Ama Museum in Taipei, which is dedicated to raising awareness about “comfort women,” last week hosted an 11-day international film festival to draw attention to the issue of violence against women, which has been politicized to serve certain agendas.

The festival began on Thursday last week, ahead of the International Memorial Day for Comfort Women on Monday.

It featured movies and documentaries that depict the physical plight and emotional distress of Taiwanese, Korean and Chinese women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II.

The line-up also included a 2013 drama depicting wartime atrocities, especially those against women, committed during the ethnic cleansing of Visegrad in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992.

The festival’s organizer said they decided to feature a film that did not seem to fit the overall theme to underline what the comfort women issue is really about: crimes against humanity.

For a long time, the comfort women issue has been used as a political tool to stir up nationalist feelings or anti-Japan sentiment, especially in South Korea and China.

It is no different in Taiwan, where the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has long accused the Tokyo-friendly Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of remaining indifferent to the issue due to political concerns.

The perpetrators should indeed be called out and denounced. Japan should answer for its crimes, just as the KMT regime should be held to account for its brutalities during the 228 Massacre and the 38-year-long Martial Law era.

Human rights violations need to be stopped via collective attention and pressure, but such actions should spring from the belief that every individual’s right to life, liberty and security must be protected and guaranteed — they should not be motivated by the goal of reigniting past ethnic conflicts or winning the favor of certain voters.

A considerable percentage of Taiwanese seem apathetic to the comfort women issue or the 228 Massacre, except for those who are politically active or are invested in public affairs, because the issues have become political weapons, detached from human compassion.

That is why Wu Hsiu-ching (吳秀菁), director of the second Taiwanese documentary on comfort women, The Song of the Reed (蘆葦之歌), took an approach different from the first one, 1998’s A Secret Buried For 50 Years — A Story of Taiwanese Comfort Women (阿媽的秘密─台籍「慰安婦」的故事), which adopted an accusatory tone against the Japanese government.

The Song of the Reed focuses on the emotional healing process of Taiwan’s surviving comfort women, their interactions with each other, the support of their families and a major problem faced by most of the nation’s older generation — loneliness.

The approach does not seek to downplay Japan’s role in the issue or whitewash the former imperial power’s atrocities.

It aims to bring the focus back on the victims and try to examine the issue from the perspective of human rights, instead of politics.

Crimes against humanity should be taken seriously and at face value.

They should never be twisted, neglected or misinterpreted for political expediency.


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