Thursday, May 21, 2009

Relatives of Aso mine's British laborers demand apology and compensation

Campaigners are calling on Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso to apologize and offer compensation to the families of British men who were forced to work at a mine owned by Aso’s father during World War II. They are also urging the prime minister to resign because they feel he failed to acknowledge for several years his family firm’s role in the use of slave labor, despite evidence to the contrary in the United States.

James McAnulty, from Glasgow, Scotland, was shocked when he learned a few months ago that the mine in which his father toiled was owned by Aso Mining Co.

McAnulty’s father, who passed away in 1971, spent long hours at the Fukuoka Prefecture mine shoveling up coal and pushing wagons.

He was there between June and September 1945 when he was liberated. The former POW told his son many tales about his time at the mine and the nearby camp where they lived.

McAnulty said his father received beatings by the guards for being unable to correctly recite his prisoner number in Japanese and also witnessed one Australian POW ‘‘disappear’’ after getting the upper hand over the guards who would practice their judo throws on the POWs, according to his son.

McAnulty, 62, told Kyodo News, ‘‘He (my father) said there was a lack of food and the sleeping quarters were terrible, but sleep was welcome because it was like he was forgetting the pain.’’

In January, Aso effectively admitted his family firm used forced labor during World War II after government documents emerged in Japan in December which confirmed earlier material from the United States.

When those U.S. media reports first surfaced in 2006—confirming the link between forced labor and the mine—it is understood that Aso, then foreign minister, ordered his officials to publicly rubbish the news.

The Japanese government documents revealed in December show that 300 Allied POWs—101 Britons, two Dutch and 197 Australians—were based at camp No. 26 which was assigned to the Aso mine. Around 150 of the men worked at the mine, with the rest working on farmland.

On Aso, McAnulty said, ‘‘I would love him to admit the truth and apologize to the survivors or their relatives. They were not paid and were not looked after well and were treated with disdain. If he has any conscience, he would apologize.’’

He recognizes that Aso was a child when these events took place and therefore cannot be held directly responsible. However, McAnulty feels that a man in his position should take the lead and do the honorable thing.

Since the discovery, McAnulty has decided to write to the prime minister’s office, although he is not optimistic about getting a reply.

‘‘I definitely think that the Aso company should compensate the survivors or their relatives. But I definitely know that it isn’t going to happen.’’

He continued, ‘‘They made immense profits and part of that was off my father’s back. My father should be paid for the years he worked there, and compensated for the cruelty imposed on him and the psychological damage.’’

McAnulty’s father, also called James, was an engine stoker on board HMS Exeter which was sunk by Japanese ships in the Java Sea in 1942.

He was moved to Camp No. 26 in Keisen, Fukuoka, from where prisoners were forced to work each day at the Yoshikuma pit belonging to Aso Mining Co., now the Aso Group. The prime minister headed the company between 1973 and 1979 before entering politics.

Aso’s spokesman said it is difficult to comment at this stage because no letter had yet been received.

Thomas Jowett, who has researched the history of HMS Exeter and its personnel, said that of the 101 British men, 88 were either from HMS Exeter or HMS Encounter, which was also sunk at the same time.

As far as he is aware there is only one Exeter survivor who worked in the mine and is still alive.

Jowett said, ‘‘It is very disconcerting that it has taken the publication of Japanese government records for Prime Minister Aso to accept that slave labor took place at this family-run mine.

‘‘The Japanese government—through Aso—should issue a more fulsome and sincere apology for the atrocities committed by Japan both before and during World War II.

‘‘I doubt that compensation will be offered by Aso and, in any event, it is too late because there are very few survivors. This, I believe, is due to the ill-treatment and malnourishment suffered by the POWs.’’

Yukihisa Fujita, an opposition parliamentarian in Japan who has been instrumental in bringing this issue to the attention of the public, told Kyodo News Aso should apologize to the British relatives ‘‘for having kept, for so long, denying’’ the family firm’s use of slave labor.

Fujita says the men should have been paid for their work at the mine and is now demanding that the firm make a ‘‘consolation’’ payment to the families.

The Japanese government has consistently expressed regret for the inhumane treatment inflicted upon POWs during World War II, but some claim that the apology did not go far enough and should have been more sincere.

Tokyo has always said that it settled all compensation claims with Allied POWs when it made payments to them through the San Francisco Peace Treaty in 1951. Critics claim this was a derisory sum and the Allied powers should not have settled for such a measly figure. This treaty has meant that any subsequent private lawsuits have been unsuccessful.

Although such treatment of POWs contravened the 1929 Geneva Convention, Japan had not ratified the convention at the time.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Aso says having children an 'obligation,' but later retracts remark

Gaffe-prone Prime Minister Taro Aso said Thursday that he has fulfilled an ‘‘obligation’’ because he has two children, but he later retracted the remark made during a parliamentary debate about Japan’s declining birthrate.

‘‘I may well have fulfilled an obligation because I have had two children since getting married at 43,’’ Aso told the House of Representatives Budget Committee in a debate with Chinami Nishimura, a lawmaker of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan.

‘‘I do not hear people say in this country that it is good to have a child or it is fun (to have child). I keep hearing that it (having a child) is tough,’’ Aso said, noting he enjoys seeing his children, who are 20 and 23.

But he later retracted the remark, saying there are various reasons for not having a child.

‘‘I think that the word ‘obligation’ was inappropriate,’’ Aso said. ‘‘There are people who cannot have a child even though they want to, and there are people who are unable to give birth for physical reasons. There are various reasons.’’

The 68-year-old premier, who took office last September, has seen a decline in the support rate for his cabinet in the past following a series of verbal gaffes on political, financial and social issues.