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‘Memory of the World’ Program: How Will UNESCO Tackle Historical Distortions Against Japan?




The International Advisory Committee (IAC) of UNESCO adopted the final report on the review process of the Memory of the World Programme (MOW) in August. It will submit it to the UNESCO Executive Board at the 202nd session in October for approval.


The review process covers a wide range of points. Japan is interested in a few of them. Taking into account the lack of transparency in the process of registering the “Documents of Nanjing Massacre” in the previous nomination cycle 2014-2015, the most important point for Japan is how to exclude political aims from MOW Programme.


In many occasions, UNESCO has asserted that it does not make historical judgments or interpretations of history. The final report reiterates this assertion. This is a very good point, but the matter is how to implement this assertion.



IAC is proposing to establish dialogues among concerned parties as a basic way for finding solutions when there is any conflict among them. Certainly dialogues would lead to greater transparency in the process.


However, IAC is delaying to the next nomination cycle 2018-2019 the start of the revised review process. Then, why do they have to delay the adoption of the revised process until the next cycle where there is a serious problem of conflict in the current review cycle? UNESCO is going to rely on a non-transparent process once again?


There are two proposals concerning “comfort women” currently being reviewed by MOW. One is “Documentation on Comfort Women and Japanese Army Discipline,” nominated by four organizations in Japan and the United States. The definition of “comfort women” is “a euphemistic expression on prostitutes who were engaged in the state-regulated legal prostitution business for the Japanese military during the wartime of 1938 to 1945.”



Another proposal is the “Voices of Comfort Women,” nominated by multiple organizations in China, South Korea, Japan, etc. The definition of “comfort women” is “a euphemistic term for the women and girls forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese military between 1931 and 1945.”


The arguments of these two proposals appear to be incompatible with each other. Nevertheless, according to some reliable information, the two proposals, which have conflicting arguments, are nominating several documents which are identical to support both. This is a serious problem.


UNESCO—in closed-door meetings—is in a position to approve one interpretation of a document and deny the other interpretation of the same document without clarifying the reasons for its decisions. The government of Japan raised this problem at the end of the last cycle of MOW, and demanded a transparent process.



In the case of “comfort women” nominations, if the one is registered while the other is rejected, it means UNESCO has approved one interpretation of “comfort women” and rejected the other. In other words, they may be officially called sex slaves of Japanese military or they may be called professional sex workers. The decision will have a profound impact on the international community.


One of these parties submitted an open letter to UNESCO, requesting for dialogue with the other proposer to clarify the category of the documents. UNESCO should take an initiative to mediate the differences between the two proposers, since the dialogues are the most important tool in accordance with the spirits of UNESCO. There is no reason UNESCO should wait for the next review cycle for adopting the more transparent process.


First of all, UNESCO has already acknowledged that the past review process, such as the one for the “Documents of Nanjing Massacre,” might have had a problem due to its opaque process.  That is why they have adopted a revised review system.  




The review process does not affect restrictions of freedom to state parties nor impose any new penalties. There is no reason why the new system cannot be implemented immediately in the current review cycle.


The MOW registration or rejection of present proposals will be announced after the IAC meeting on October 24-27, 2017.


The goal of MOW is to safeguard documentary heritage, not to distort the precious primary sources, and still less to make historical judgement of “comfort women.” If UNESCO deviates from its sublime mission of promoting world peace, and leads to confusions and disputes among concerned member states, then the prestigious position UNESCO has earned in the past will be seriously questioned.




Yumiko Yamamoto is president of "Japanese Women for Justice and Peace", the NGO based in Japan.




An Open Letter to MOW  

Re: Request for mediation with the proposer of “The Voices of Comfort Women”



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  1. Anthony Tony Marano

    October 2, 2017 at 1:26 am

    Ms. Yumiko Yamamoto has been a good friend of mine for a number of years. In all that time I noticed she is tireless in announcing the truth on the Comfort Women issue. In the face of a left-wing media onslaught and propaganda coming across the Sea of Japan from the Korean peninsula she remains positive and continues speaking the truth to this issue.

    I could never understand the focus on the United Nations to get the truth told. Many in the USA see the UN as a sewer filled with despots and third-word human rights abusers, thus negating any legitimacy they may enjoy. But I am not Japanese as I guess if I was I would understand. To many Americans what the United Nation thinks is of no concern. Many in Japan do express a concern, and Ms. Yamamoto addresses the Comfort Women issue with the UN out of this concern.

    It is easy to understand this focus as those spreading these lies must be challenged on every level at every opportunity, even if it involves a worthless group as the UN. Allow these liars to succeed in one arena they will then move on to the next one. That in itself is a paramount reason to support Ms. Yamamoto in her work.

    An American author once wrote / said: “It is never wrong to do the right thing.”

  2. Emily Fast

    October 1, 2017 at 2:00 pm

    I totally agree with Ms. Yamamoto. Unesco has already misjudged Nanjing issue completely.
    Unesco needs to adopt the system to stop this kind of error which impact the existence of Unesco.

  3. Toshi Hayakawa

    September 30, 2017 at 7:06 pm

    The Thief Thinks All People Like Himself

    The sex “slavery” accusers never verified their claims.
    Their stories are patterned after Chinese classic Shiji Tsugan or after any culture with savage slavery, that Japanese Buddhist-Shintoist culture did not have.

    Nadeshiko Action bases only on facts with primary material evidence.
    Oxford Dictionary says ir-relevance is one mark of the “spam.”
    If the lies of “slavery” needs anything that is not “spam,” nothing is more relevant than Nadeshiko’s list of solid facts.

    Nadeshiko’s fact-filled sincere e-mails do not “intimidate” descent people— it does so the liers with issues. The foolishness, magnitude and persistence of the Korean comfort women lies might be related to the astronomical lying rate in Korea (Korean Supreme Court & Korea Herald: 420 to 540 times more than in Japan.)

    Fire Disease, sick emotional reaction lacking context with facts, is common also in the Koreans including those who migrated to America, e.g., affecting 12% of a random community sample. (U.S. National Library of Medicine, NIH, HHS author manuscript PMC4232959)

    The “slavery” lies are beyond facts or interpretation, right or left, and in the realm of abnormal thinking. If UNESCO wants to stay away from judgement or interpretation, it has Nadeshiko of Japan.
    It also can collect the ample primary material evidence for Lai Dai Han, Korean sex violence during the Vietnam War.

    Japan has sacrificed itself to extricate Korea from primitive savage condition that persisted into the 20th century, such as slavery, execution by slow torture, the use of the sex organs of female slaves, compulsory public exposure of female breasts, tasting of human feces for enjoyment etc.

    — a stark contrast to Japan where world’s oldest novel etc. had been written by females, before the 10th century already (Lady Murasaki; c. 973 or 978 – c. 1014 or 1031,) and the whole spectrum of female works have been traditionally respected.

    “ Under one roof a comfort woman also sleeps-- Hagi flower and moon. “
    This is a famous haiku poem by Basho 1644-1694, Japanese master poet, and this haiku represents traditional Japanese Buddhist-Shintoist spirit to value all forms of life.


    Toshi Hayakawa

  4. thomaskyhn

    September 29, 2017 at 9:33 am


    "Legislators in [a number of US states] have been spammed by a coordinated campaign to discredit the Comfort Women and to intimidate lawmakers. The rightwing Nadeshiko Action Japanese Women for Justice and Peace tracks pro-Comfort Women activities in the U.S. and organizes detailed English-language email spam attacks on anyone associated with an identified American Comfort Women bill or program. Their uniform "emails" claim that the Comfort Women were mere prostitutes and that the issue was created by Koreans to humiliate Japan."

    From The Point (Asia Policy Point's blog):

  5. Miroslav Marinov

    September 29, 2017 at 4:29 am

    Ms. Yamamoto exposes correctly the flaws of UNESCO in the treatment of the two proposals that use identical documents to support two arguments opposite to each other. One of the missions of the organization is to promote science. Logic, the cornerstone of scientific discourse, tells us that the same premise can't lead to two opposite conclusions. The reluctance of UNESCO to apply scientific analysis to facts shows a disturbing trend, where science is replaced with political considerations.

    Perhaps, bureaucrats, who can't follow the elementary rules of logic, should leave complex issues like "comfort women" to be discussed and resolved by competent historians in an open discussion. The involvement into highly contested historical events erodes further the reputation of UNESCO because taking sides creates hostilities among the member states. This is a far cry from the initial goal of promoting peace and mutual understanding among nations. While Japan is targeted over the "comfort women", UNESCO willfully ignores catastrophic events like the genocide against the Tibetan people or the consequences of the Cultural Revolution in People's Republic of China. Don't both of them deserve a place in the Memory of the World program? At the same time, UNESCO rewrites history, as it was the case with the resolutions denying the Jewish heritage in Jerusalem.

    UNESCO fails even in its mission to preserve historical monuments. They did nothing to prevent the destruction of Palmyra by Muslim extremists. They said nothing after China destroyed the last traces of the culture of the Kaifeng Jews.

    Instead of playing (badly) the role of supreme arbiter of history, UNESCO must return to its original simple goals and leave politics to politicians. And if it wants to deal with the "comfort women" controversy, it should operate transparently and rely on qualified scholars.

  6. Kiyoshi Hosoya

    September 28, 2017 at 2:56 pm

    I stand behind Ms. Yamamoto.

    UNESCO will bring peace in international communities, or disturbances?
    "Comfort Women" is an euphemistic expression of prostitutes in battle fields,
    "Sex-Enslaved Comfort Women" is a hypocritical expression of self-proclaimed comfort women who give their "testimonies" of enslavement, which contradict totally to facts.
    The issue of Comfort Women has been supported and promoted by the government of North and South Korean and PROC (China). Did their support and promotion bring peace and respects of human rights?
    The realities in China and the governments of Korea are utterly different from what they declare. N-Bomb, poverty in N. Korea, and prostitutes in the border of China and N. Korea, an increase of crimes against women in S. Korea, etc.
    The hypocritical motto - "tragedies of Comfort Women" cause moral hazard only, not merit, as really observed in N/S. Korean and China.

    UNESCO should not aid one party of the dispute and not aid the hypocrites upon UNESCO's honor.

  7. Sharon Isac

    September 28, 2017 at 12:44 pm

    Yumiko Yamamoto encapsulates the problem facing the Memory of the World Programme of UNESCO.

    The lack of transparency in the registering process came to Japan's attention when "Documents of Nanjing Massacre" was registered in the 2014-15 cycle. Since then, the International Advisory of the Programme reviewed and made necessary changes to the registration process, or so we are told. The new and improved procedure will, when presented with conflicting views, facilitate dialogue between the disputing parties. Why then, asks Yamamoto, delay its implementation to the year 2018-19 cycle rather than the current one when such conflict exist? Why, indeed?

    Asian experience of the World War 2 is gaining public interest in the West due to perhaps its large number of Asian population. As little known aspect of history, it becomes the subject of close historical investigation. Currently, subjects such as "Nanjing incident" or "Comfort Women" are politically loaded and controversial, thus requiring absolute impartiality. I would like to know how the Committee will resolve two conflicting views on the same subject, in this case, of "Comfort Women" without involving both parties.

    The solution to this dilemma seems simple enough: Adopt the new procedure without delay, or failing that delay processing the two conflicting nomination to the year 2018-19 when the new procedure is fully implemented. Not to do so would further erode public confidence in UNESCO to disrepute and irrelevance.

  8. Tadamoto Ishikawa

    September 27, 2017 at 8:29 pm

    Stop closed-door meeting, do dialogues from now on!

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