Michael Saudino, County Sheriff; Maura DeNicola, Freeholder; John Hogan, County Clerk; Congressman Mike Honda (CA-17); Thomas Sullivan, Freeholder

Michael Saudino, County Sheriff; Maura DeNicola, Freeholder; John Hogan, County Clerk; Congressman Mike Honda (CA-17); Thomas Sullivan, Freeholder

On March 6th, 2015, Bergen County and KACE co-hosted a 2nd Anniversary Commemoration of the Bergen County Comfort Women Memorial, in honor of the 2015 International Women’s Day. Several dignitaries and local community leaders–including Congressman Mike Honda (CA-17), Bergen County Executive James Tedesco, former County Executive Kathleen Donovan, County Clerk John Hogan, Chairwoman of Chosen Freeholders Joan Voss, Bergen County Sheriff and Undersheriffs–graced the event with their presence. Many of the speakers informed the audience of the forced sexual slavery victims of the World War II, otherwise known as “Comfort Women,” and emphasized the significance of the Memorial, as well as the pursuit of historic justice and fighting for human rights. Their poignant interest in the atrocity and passionate call for justice were all met with great deal of support from the audience of 50 Bergen County residents.

Freeholder Joan Voss, Chairwoman of Chosen Freeholders, Bergen County, NJ

Freeholder Joan Voss, Chairwoman of Chosen Freeholders, Bergen County, NJ

Joan Voss, Chairwoman of Chosen Freeholders, especially addressed that women today are still violated in the Middle East and Africa and that we should remind ourselves never to allow such a tragedy repeat, through the physical reminders like the Bergen County Comfort Women Memorial. She went on to urge the government of Japan to accept its historical responsibilities and publicly apologize, and even suggested it to “perhaps pay some restitution” to the survivors. Without a doubt, she seemed to find the Japanese government’s historic revisionism more outrageous, if not heartbreaking, as a longtime, dedicated history teacher in the Fort Lee public school system.

Of the speakers, all of whom made clear their stance of urging the Japanese government to take its historical responsibility, Congressman Mike Honda (CA-17) showed the deepest compassion toward the sexual slavery victims and the most determination to pursue justice. As a lifelong champion of human rights and social equality, Congressman Honda shared his experience at a Japanese American internment camp during his childhood and quoted H.R. 442 of 1988 (Civil Liberties Act of 1987) that apologized to the victims of unjust internment, as an example of a government facing up to its own mistakes and to make amends to those it wrongly hurt in the past.

Congressman Mike Honda (CA-17)

Congressman Mike Honda (CA-17)

“A government, rightfully so, must be put forward to be made, to be required, [and] to face up to their own mistakes. For this reason, a government is an organic living, being responsible for its past, its present, and its future. And, so when a government makes a mistake, it should be required to acknowledge that,” affirmed Congressman Honda. “The truth is that the Imperial Army created a system of kidnapping and forcing young women and girls into sexual slavery. The right thing to do today is to simply apologize.” He went on to draw on a Halmuni‘s testimony before the Foreign Relations Subcommittee during the passage of H.Res. 121 of 2007, “if you cannot apologize to me, return to me my youth.”

Congressman Honda also applauded the Bergen County’s monument as “a symbol of a community calling for peace and reconciliation,” and urged the government of Japan to do the same. He further criticized the Abe administration’s historic revisionist effort, called for its end, citing a $500,000,000 budget it set aside for the sole purpose of persuading American textbook publishers to change their history contents, and asserted that “there is nothing more important for a democratic country like Japan to apologize, if they want to take their rightful role as a democratic country in the global society.”

Toward his remarks that deeply moved the audience, Mr. Honda explained his opposition to Prime Minister Abe’s upcoming visit and his possible speech to Congress: “Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and myself…are also going to address the issue of the Halmunis and the fact that the (sic) Prime Minister Abe is coming. And we will be sharing our opinion that he should not have the ability to address the joint session of Congress. He has a right to visit…whomever. But, the privilege to come before the joint session of Congress, I think, is one that I would speak up and ask the leadership not to allow that. It may be already a forgone conclusion, but we want to make public our sentiments, unless Prime Minister Abe is willing to speak to the issue of apology and making apology and it will be the greatest pulpit in the world, to do that. That is our position.”

County Executive James Tedesco, Bergen County, NJ

County Executive James Tedesco, Bergen County, NJ

County Executive James Tedesco also agreed with the Congressman’s speech, adding that he hopes “that the Japanese government hears those words, and listens to those words, and takes action on those words…Even though these events took place more than half a century ago and half a world away, we must always remember what a tragedy this [the forced sexual slavery] was, and do everything in our power as Americans, and as human beings, to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.” He vowed also to always listen to all Bergen County residents’ concerns and to fight against all that threats the peace and justice of the County.

County Clerk John Hogan also joined in honoring the sexual slavery victims and read a quote from a New York Times article he had found impactful: “The United States, in particular, has a responsibility to remind Japan, its ally, that human rights and women’s rights are pillars of American foreign policy. If we do not speak out, we will be complicit not only in Japanese denialism, but also in undermining today’s international efforts to end war crimes involving sexual violence.”

John Hogan, County Clerk, Bergen County, NJ

John Hogan, County Clerk, Bergen County, NJ

After the event, both the County Executive and Sheriff presented Congressman Honda with honorary insignia pins. Numerous attendees expressed their respect and support for Congressman Honda’s relentless pursuit for social justice. For example, Executive Undersheriff Joseph Hornyak told him that he is fighting “a courageous and brave fight.”

Via video, two of sexual slavery survivors at the House of Sharing also sent their message of appreciation for former County Executive Donovan’s visit to their shelter back in 2012, as well as the dedication and maintenance of the Bergen County “Comfort Women” Memorial.

There is an ongoing online petition to require PM Abe to take historical responsibilities as a head of state, as a condition to his speech in Congress. Any American citizen can participate at http://KAFus.org. All signatures collected through the website are automatically forwarded to the petitioner’s Representative, Speaker John Boehner, and the White House. KAF is also raising funds to place an advertisement on a Congressional newspaper.

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