Dutch Australian activist died at 96 years

Studio portrait of Jan O'Herne taken shortly before she was interned by the Japanese Imperial Army after its capture of Java on 8 March 1942
Studio portrait of Jan O'Herne taken shortly before she was interned by the Japanese Imperial Army after its capture of Java on 8 March 1942. (Photo: Australian War Memorial/Wikimedia Commons)

Dutch-Australian human rights activist Jan Ruff-O'Herne died at the age of 96 in the Australian city of Adelaide. Ruff-O'Herne was the first of the so-called "comfort women" to openly tell how she was used as a sex slave by Japanese soldiers in a military run "comfort station" during World War II, NOS reports.

Ruff-O'Herne was born in the former Dutch East Indies to Dutch parents in 1923. When she was 19 years old she ended up in an internment camp after the Japanese invasion of Indonesia. But she was quickly transferred to a brothel to "comfort" Japanese soldiers. After the war, she married a British soldier, with whom she emigrated to Australia in the 1960s. 

In 1992, Ruff-O'Herne came out to tell about her experiences as a sex slave during WWII. She then committed herself to support for women who went through the same thing, inspiring many more women to tell their story. She also fought for formal apologies from Japan to all women who were forced to work in comfort stations. According to some historians, around 200 thousand women were used as sex slaves in the Japanese-occupied territories during the Second World War. 

In 2001, Ruff-O'Herne was distinguished as a Knight in the Order of Oranje-Nassau - one of the highest honors the Netherlands bestows. In 2007 she spoke about her experiences in front of the American Congress. "I have forgiven the Japanese for what they did to me", she said. "But I will never forget it. I hope that, by speaking out, I have contributed to world peace and that such violations of women's rights will never occur again."

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