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Memory of the World Register

Memory of the World Register is a project of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) that was founded to “facilitate preservation […] of the world’s documentary heritage,” “assist universal access to documentary heritage,” and “increase awareness worldwide of the existence and significance of documentary heritage.”

In 2014, People’s Republic of China submitted “Documents of Nanjing Massacre” for inclusion in the Memory of the World Register and they were inscribed in 2015. Japanese nationalists, many of whom consider Nanking atrocities to be a hoax or vastly exaggerated, became enraged and began calling for the government of Japan to suspend its financial obligation to UNESCO or to withdraw from it altogether. Bowing to their pressure, the Shinzo Abe administration announced in October 2016 that Japan had suspended its payment to UNESCO.

The Japanese government has criticized that the Memory of the World Registry had become too politicized and strayed away from its original goal of fostering dialogue and cooperation. However, Japan has itself nominated and inscribed documents related to the internment of Japanese nationals by the Soviet Union after the WWII and their repatriation to Japan in the same year China submitted documents on Nanking atrocities.

In the 2016-2017 cycle, a coalition of 14 civic groups from Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan, The Netherlands, The Philippines, Indonesia, East Timor, and the United Kingdom submitted “voices of comfort women,” a collection of materials from private and public archives that document Japanese military comfort women system and the postwar struggles by its victims to demand justice. Predictably, Japanese right-wing nationalists protested UNESCO and coalition members, and at least one Japanese organization involved in the effort have received a bomb threat.

Anticipating the submission of “voices of comfort women,” a coalition of right-wing comfort women denier organizations also submitted their own set of documents, “Documentation on ‘Comfort Women’ and Japanese Army discipline.” Members of the right-wing coalition are the Alliance for Truth About Comfort Women, the Study Group for Japan’s Rebirth (Koichi Mera), and Nadeshiko Action (a.k.a. Japanese Women for Justice and Peace). In the submission, they claim (as they always do): “[C]omfort women enjoyed a certain amount of freedom, even in battle zones, and were paid handsomely. They were decidedly not sex slaves.”

Each country is allowed up to two submission per cycle, but this restriction is waived for joint submissions involving groups from multiple countries. The right-wing submission was permitted because one of the sponsors, the Study Group for Japan’s Rebirth, is technically located in the United States, even though all of its businesses are conducted in Japanese by and for Japanese residents in Los Angeles. Both parties’ submissions are pending review.

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