5 Nobel laureates slam Hashimoto over wartime sexual servitude remarks

Osaka mayor and co-leader of the Japan Restoration Party Toru Hashimoto speaks before press at the Osaka city hall in Osaka, western Japan on May 24, 2013.

Five female Nobel Peace Prize laureates issued a statement in Northern Ireland on Thursday slamming Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto over his remarks on Japan's wartime system of military brothels.

The five winners, who gathered at a three-day conference of the Nobel Women's Initiative in Belfast on the impact of war on women, said they "condemn in the strongest possible terms the recent deplorable remarks" by Hashimoto.

The mayor, who co-heads the opposition Japan Restoration Party, said anyone can understand that the women at the brothels, euphemistically referred to as "comfort women" in Japan, were "necessary" for frontline soldiers during World War II.

The statement was issued by U.S. anti-land mine campaigner Jody Williams, Iranian human rights activist Shirin Ebadi and Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee as well as Mairead Maguire, who worked to end violence in Northern Ireland, and Rigoberta Menchu Tum, who promotes the rights of indigenous people in Guatemala.

The laureates, who received their peace prizes between 1976 and 2011, said in the statement, "Sexual slavery in wartime is a form of gender violence and is today defined as war crime."

"The crimes committed against the 'comfort women' continue to cause terrible pain for individuals and their families, and contribute to the continued tensions, enmity and mistrust in East Asia today," the statement said.

The laureates called on Hashimoto to retract his remarks and "make a full apology" for his remarks. They also urged the Japanese government to take immediate steps to secure justice for the victims of sexual slavery and to promote the end of gender violence and rape in war.

Hashimoto claimed earlier in the week that he had not condoned the use of the women by Japanese soldiers before and during World War II, saying it was an "inexcusable act that violated the dignity and human rights of the women."

He said media reports had presented his remarks out of context, resulting in misunderstanding.