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HOME  > Past issues  > 2019 October 22 - 29  > Gov’t should wholeheartedly work to bring back remains of ex-Japanese POWs in Siberia
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2019 October 22 - 29 [SOCIAL ISSUES]

Gov’t should wholeheartedly work to bring back remains of ex-Japanese POWs in Siberia

October 25, 2019
Akahata editorial

Regarding remains of former Japanese POWs captured in Siberia after World War II, the government recently admitted to the possibility that among remains retrieved from Russia, some do not belong to former Japanese POWs. This has aroused mistrust toward the Welfare Ministry’s project to collect remains of the war dead abroad. Facing fierce public criticism, the ministry has belatedly set up a team of experts to conduct a review of DNA tests and initiate investigations into the matter. The ministry should be blamed for its reluctance to probe into the long-standing allegation that non-Japanese remains were mistakenly brought back to Japan.

Mistakenly repatriated remains hidden for 14 years

The number of former Japanese POWs who died in Siberia reportedly stood at about 55,000 while an accurate count has yet to be given. So far, only 21,900 remains of individuals were recovered from Russia. In July, a news report revealed that remains of non-Japanese may possibly be included among the recovered remains. The Welfare Ministry, which was initially slow to react to the report, finally in September in response to an increasing demand to uncover the truth, made public that 597 remains may not be Japanese.

The questionable remains were collected between 1999 and 2014 at nine burial sites in Russia which include those in Khabarovsk and Irkutsk. The Welfare Ministry during an examination of past records became aware that at meetings of a Japanese expert team held between May 2015 and March 2019 to confirm the results of DNA tests and other tests on remains, experts repeatedly pointed out the possibility of the repatriation of non-Japanese remains. It has been 14 years since the expert team conveyed its doubts about the authenticity of the remains. It is essential to determine why this was hidden and untouched for so long and to clarify where the responsibility for this lies.

In the past, a similar problem occurred. Traces of non-Japanese DNA were found in bones which a Japanese NPO recovered in the Philippines under a contract to the Welfare Ministry. This evoked much controversy and thus the ministry’s collection project was suspended in 2010 and did not resume until 2018.

The bringing back of wrong remains should be prevented in the first place. The Welfare Ministry not only repeated such a grave mistake but also covered it up for years, which indicates that the problem is deep-rooted. The ministry this month set up an investigation team and started to look into how the mix-up happened. In order to prevent a recurrence, it is necessary to address the structural problems in the nature of the ministry which undermines the foundation of the remains collection project.

It was in 1952 when the government began to collect the remains of 2.4 million Japanese nationals who died overseas during World War II. Of them, the remains of around 1.28 million were recovered and the number of remains to be repatriated reached 1.12 million.

The law to promote the collection of the remains of the war dead, which was established in 2016 with unanimous Diet approval, stipulates that the government has the responsibility of gathering remains both at home and abroad and of returning them to the bereaved families. The law designates the period between 2016 and 2024 as a special period of making extra efforts to promote the collection project in an organized and effective manner. The Abe government should wholeheartedly support the project.

Remains collection project needs to be drastically reviewed and accelerated

The Japanese government should play a leading role and urge the Russian government to take part in the remains collection project in order to hold Russia responsible for the fact that the former Soviet Union detained Japanese POWs in Siberia in violation of international law. This is what supporters of the former POWs call for.

Seventy-four years have passed since the end of WWII and the bereaved families of the POWs are aging. It is increasingly difficult to recover remains and identify them. The remains collection project should be drastically improved to accelerate the work.

Past related article:
> Ex-Japanese POWs want remains of the dead to be collected [August 24, 2016]
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