Survivors of conflict-related sexual violence endure abuses so horrific that the consequences may last a lifetime, including psychological, social and physical suffering. While implementing comprehensive victim support services is a necessary response to these atrocities, obtaining a sense of justice is also often vital in their recovery.
The sexual slavery system set up during WWII by the Japanese army subjected women and girls from those countries occupied by Japan to years of rape and torture. Little is known about one particular survivors’ group in the Philippines, the Malaya Lolas (Grandmothers of Freedom) who suffered both as a result of sexual violence inflicted on them and the brutal massacre that was perpetrated against the men and boys in their village, Mapanique in Pampanga province. After the atrocities, the women and girls had little choice but to stay silent about the abuse they endured. Speaking out would have led to stigmatization and isolation by their own communities.
Following fifty years of suffering in silence, the women opened up about their experiences and the Malaya Lolas started to be formed as a collective strength in 1997 with 90 surviving victims. The President of the Malaya Lolas, and the lead petitioner in their legal case, is Isabelita Vinuya, who is now 84 years old and a survivor herself. She has been relentlessly championing the cause of this struggle.
An advocacy campaign for their justice in the form of a photography exhibition held in universities in Japan and the Philippines reflects that these atrocities have long standing repercussions in their lives and are still very much alive in their memory. The Malaya Lolas want to turn the “Red House’, where they had been raped and tortured into a museum as a mark of their collective memory. Unfortunately, until now, they have received very little encouragement from authorities.
In 2010, the Supreme Court in the Philippines dismissed a petition filed by CenterLaw-Philippines, on behalf of the Malaya Lolas, which asserted that the Philippine government has an obligation under international law to espouse their claims for reparations against Japan. Since that time, subsequent motions were filed, but each time unsuccessfully. The Malaya Lolas are demanding both an apology and compensation from the Japanese government, and furthermore want their history documented in accounts about the past.
Though justice has still been insufficient for their counterparts in South Korea, steps, have been taken by the Korean and Japanese governments to provide Korean survivors with some type of recognition. For the Malaya Lolas, however, less has been achieved.
Recently Centerlaw-Philippines and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR)-Berlin brought the plight of the Malaya Lolas to the attention of the UN Special Rapporteurs on Contemporary Forms of Slavery and Violence Against Women. The fact that the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery will not be following through with the complaint made indicates the need for further action through the collaboration of different stakeholders both in the Philippines and abroad.
The Mukwege Foundation joins these organizations in pushing for justice to be achieved. Together we can ensure that the plight of these victims is no longer forgotten.