Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said his heart aches for the women who were forced into prostitution by Japan’s military during World War II.
“My heart aches when I think about the people who were victimized by human trafficking and who were subject to immeasurable pain and suffering, beyond description,” he told students at Harvard University Monday.
“On this score my feeling is no different from my predecessor prime ministers.”
Abe was replying to a question about Japan’s use of so-called “comfort women”, a Japanese euphemism for women forced into prostitution and sexually abused at Japanese military brothels before and during the war.
Japan acknowledged military involvement in the practice and apologized to these women in the 1990s.
But human rights groups have recently stepped up pressure on Abe to ease widespread concerns that he wants to whitewash Japan’s wartime past, as his conservative domestic allies feel that after 70 years of peaceful policies, fresh apologies are not needed.
About a dozen protesters stood outside the auditorium where Abe was speaking, holding signs denouncing sexual slavery, Reuters reported.
Abe said his government was working with the United Nations on women’s rights issues and was “determined that in the 21st century, women’s human rights should not be violated”.
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