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“Comfort women” survivor from Philippines promotes human rights against wartime rape, human trafficking

News release details

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights has organized a visit to Canada by one of the last living survivors of military sexual slavery during the Second World War.

Lola Fidencia David, 86, has been accompanied from The Philippines by Cristina Lope Rosello, a Filipina therapist who helps former comfort women deal with the trauma of their past. Rosello's book, Disconnect: The Filipino Comfort Women, traces the human impact of 50 years of post-war silence about girls who were abducted and sexually enslaved by the Japanese military in so-called "comfort" stations.

"Breaking the silence about human rights violations is essential for healing and growing: for the global community as well as for victims," CMHR president and CEO Stuart Murray said at a news conference held today at the Winnipeg Chinese and Community Cultural Centre (WCCCC), with members of Winnipeg's Asian communities. 

"This is a story of inspiration. By facing the past and learning its lessons, we help shine a light on human rights abuses that continue today, including wartime rape and human trafficking of women for sexual exploitation. The CMHR is committed to encouraging reflection and dialogue about these important subjects."

The story of the comfort women came to the attention of the international community only in the 1990s. Rosello helped campaign in 1999 for inclusion of gender justice and victims' rights in the Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which ultimately recognized wartime rape as a crime under its jurisdiction. Her therapy has not only enabled former comfort women to regain a sense of dignity, but empowered them to speak out in support of women's rights around the world. 

"Survivors' stories must be preserved so younger generations are aware that these kinds of transgressions against women should never be allowed, and that we must be vigilant against modern forms of atrocity against women," Rosello said. 

David was 14 when she was forced into a Japanese army garrison and repeatedly raped by Japanese soldiers. In 2007, she testified at Canada's House of Commons, which subsequently passed a unanimous motion urging the Japanese government to take full responsibility and offer a formal apology to the estimated 200,000 comfort women of Korea, China, The Philippines and other nations. 

The CMHR will record interviews with both women, to become part of its collection of human rights oral histories. Public events will take place in Winnipeg and Toronto. A schedule is attached.

Dr. Clint Curle of the CMHR has organized the lectures and events with the assistance of the WCCC and its president, Dr. Joseph Du; Rod Cantiveros of The Filipino Journal; Dr. Tina Chen of the University of Manitoba; and the Toronto Association for Learning and the Preserving of History of WWII in Asia (ALPHA) and its founder, Dr. Joseph Wong.

Cantiveros said awareness of the WWII sexual enslavement of Filipinas is still relatively low, prompting him to produce a play about a Filipina-Canadian who discovers her mother was a comfort woman. An excerpt from his play will be performed at an event tonight at the Philippine Canadian Centre of Manitoba.

Opening in 2014 in Winnipeg, the CMHR is the first museum solely dedicated to the evolution, celebration and future of human rights. It is the first national museum to be established in Canada since 1967 and the first built outside the National Capital Region. 

Schedule of public events 

Winnipeg

October 17, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.: Community event at the Philippine Canadian Centre of Manitoba, 737 Keewatin St. , co-sponsored by the Winnipeg Chinese Cultural and Community Centre.

October 18, 12 p.m.: Panel discussion, Sexual Violence Against Women in War and Conflict, University of Manitoba Law School Building.

Toronto

October 20, 11 a.m.: Catholic Parish Service presentation, Forest Hill United Church, 2 Wembley Road (Bathurst and Eglinton).

October 21:

  • 9 a.m.: TDSB student assembly with 800 students
  • 12:15 p.m.: TDSB student assembly with 500 students

October 22

  • 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.: Panel discussion, University of Toronto, New College, William Doo Auditorium, 45 Willcocks St.
  • 6:30 to 8 p.m.: Community event, Barbara Frum Library, 20 Covington Rd. 

Biographies

Lola Fidencia DavidWhen the Japanese army occupied her town, 14-year-old Lola was captured, repeatedly raped by night, and forced to clean the garrison camp by day. She also witnessed the brutal rape and murder of her grandmother. After the war, she withdrew from social contact, experienced revulsion for physical intimacy, and was unable to escape from the past. Through therapy later in life, she was able to face the past, control her hatred, and develop skills at public speaking – which she used to advocate for recognition of the plight of former comfort women, and promote human rights. She has spoken in Beijing, The Netherlands, South Africa, Australia, Canada, the UK and at home in The Philippines. This included testimony in 2007 before Canada's House of Commons, which led to a unanimous motion urging Japan to take responsibility and apologize to the former "comfort women". 

Cristina Lope RoselloRosello is a clinical psychologist who helps empower former "comfort women" to deal with their trauma, regain their dignity, and become effective spokespeople for women's rights. A graduate of the University of The Philippines, she runs a private clinical practice for battered women and abused children, while counselling former comfort women in sessions that have become clinical findings supporting the women's case for compensation from Japan. She also actively campaigned for inclusion of gender justice and victims' rights in the Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which ultimately recognized wartime rape as a crime under its jurisdiction. Rosello has spoken in countries around the world on behalf of the comfort women. She is an international affiliate of the American Psychological Association and author of Disconnect: The Filipino Comfort Women.