They won awards and United Nations accreditation for their work. They are accused of “connections” with the Unification Church. Their life is now becoming a hell.
by Massimo Introvigne
“Bitter Winter” has followed with great concern the developments in Japan after the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and the attempt to make the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (formerly known as the Unification Church) somewhat responsible for it. The assassin offered as motivation for his heinous crime that he intended to punish Abe for his collaboration with the Family Federation, a religious organization he hated, he claimed, because his mother went bankrupt in 2002 after her excessive donations to the group. Following the crime, an old campaign was revamped by lawyers and others hostile to the Family Federation mostly for political reasons, as they resented for decades its successful sponsorship of anti-Communist initiatives. It was claimed that the Family Federation was an anti-social organization financing itself through “spiritual sales” of objects sold to devotees for sums greatly exceeding their value, or through donations obtained through improper pressures, and that second-generation members born in the church were mistreated and suffered psychological harm. Press conferences and an unprecedented media campaign of slander followed, until the government decided to seek the dissolution of the Family Federation as a religious organization.
The dissolution should be pronounced by courts of law after a due process. However, a witch hunt is already targeting in Japan members of the Family Federation and of organizations connected with it through acts of discrimination prohibited by both the Constitution of Japan and international human rights law. A case in point concerns the Women’s Federation for World Peace International (WFWPI), an NGO that has enjoyed for more than 25 years general consultative status at the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The “general consultative status,” which the WFWPI received in 1997, is different from the “special consultative status” granted to thousands of NGOs. General consultative status is comparatively rare. It is granted after a thorough investigation, according to the ECOSOC rules, to “fairly large, established international NGOs with a broad geographical reach,” which have offered “substantive and sustained contributions” to the aims of the United Nations in “several fields.”
There is no doubt that the WFWPI has been founded in 1992 by the leaders of the Family Federation, then called the Unification Church, Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon and her late husband Reverend Sun Myung Moon. This is by no means concealed and is clearly explained on the web site of the organization. On the other hand, the aim of the WFWPI is not to proselytize for the Family Federation but to empower women internationally through charitable and educational work. Those who participate in the activities of the WFWPI belong to all religions or to none.
Yet in Japan, without even waiting for the outcome of the court proceedings for the dissolution of the Family Federation, the WFWPI is the victim of a campaign of discrimination unprecedented and unbelievable in a democratic country. “Bitter Winter” has interviewed Moriko Hori, the president of WFWPI Japan. All her claims are supported by documents. As incredible as it may appear, the story she tells is tragically real.
Can you tell us more about the activities of WFWPI in Japan?
As you know, the Women’s Federation for World Peace International is an international NGO founded in 1992. WFWP Japan is its Japanese branch. Since 1994, WFWP Japan has initiated overseas projects, conducting more than one hundred campaigns in fifty countries. Our primary focus is on educating women and children in poverty-stricken areas of developing countries. Our dedicated volunteers have made substantial contributions, providing hope for the future through our projects, which benefit women of all religions and beliefs. We have closely collaborated with numerous UN entities and other international organizations and have received high praise for our activities in countries around the world. WFWP Japan’s projects in Niger and Senegal were featured on the United Nations website among the NGOs’ “best practices.”
The National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales (NNLSS), an anti-cult organization that conducts since 1987 a campaign against the Unification Church, insists that WFWP Japan is just a “front” for the Family Federation. How do you answer these claims?
The word “front” implies that there is something hidden or deceptive. In fact, all our publications acknowledge that our founders were Reverend Moon and Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon. Personally, I certainly do not hide that I am a member of the Family Federation either. It is equally true that WFWP Japan is an independent organization from the Family Federation in terms of both funding and organizational management. We do not proselytize for the Family Federation, nor do we collect funds for it. Both the women we help and assist, and our volunteers, come from all religions and in some cases are not religious at all. WFWP Japan members include atheists, Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, and devotees of different religious orders and movements including Soka Gakkai and Shynnio-en. Our members also have very different political opinions, both conservative and liberal.
After the assassination of former Prime Minister Abe, “Bitter Winter” mentioned the story of your famous volunteer Akiko Hozan as an egregious example of bigotry…
Last year, Akiko Hozan, a WFWP Japan volunteer in Mozambique, received a call from the Japanese embassy in that country, informing her that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan had decided to revoke the Minister’s Award she had received for her outstanding educational work there. This incident occurred after MP Keiji Kokuta, from the Japanese Communist Party, accused the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of having given an award to “an organization affiliated with the Unification Church” during a parliamentary budget meeting.
Kokuta accused the WFWP school in Mozambique of teaching the doctrines of the Unification Church and of proselytizing among students, which is not true. That the award was revoked was shocking not only to Hozan but also to the members of WFWP Japan who had supported the school in Mozambique and its students for thirty years. According to Hozan, the same Japanese Embassy had recommended her for the award from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She was asked to return the certificate and a scarf she had received as a symbol of the award.
The WFWP school in Mozambique was established to provide education and hope for the future to children of a country that had suffered from decades of colonial rule and civil war. Upon the request of the local community, WFWP decided to establish a school in a poverty-stricken area. After thirty years, female students represented more than fifty percent of the total. Our school has been recognized and praised for its high educational standards. After the Ministry revoked the award, WFWP received a letter of appreciation from the Embassy of the Republic of Mozambique in Japan. Obviously, Mozambicans know the truth about our school first-hand rather than from the campaigns of slander by some Japanese politicians and anti-cultists.
I understand the NNLSS has also attacked your speech contests, causing considerable damages…
We are well-known in colleges throughout Japan for our Female International Students’ Japanese Speech Contest. It is a contest about the proficiency female foreign students have acquired in the Japanese language. On June 15 this year, the NNLSS issued a protest statement against the Speech Contest, requesting that local governments and universities should not permit the use of public facilities by WFWP Japan. The Speech Contest is about language and has nothing to do with religion or the Family Federation.
WFWP members were astonished by this protest. WFWP Japan has been organizing this contest for twenty-six years, with the cooperation of several embassies, universities, and local governments. It has been widely praised as a way of supporting international female students who come to Japan.
The Speech Contest has been one of WFWP’s flagship projects, not only supporting female international students but also providing valuable opportunities for Japanese citizens to understand Japan through the perspectives of international students. We take pride in conducting this project to empower female students and enhance international understanding.
Due to the protest by NNLSS and requests to local governments, some local chapters of WFWP Japan can no longer use certain public facilities. Five local governments refused permission for the use of public facilities for the Speech Contest. Some university officials indicated that their universities were accused of “cooperating with the Family Federation” just for allowing their international students to participate in the WFWP Speech Contest.
These are no longer isolated incidents…
No, unfortunately. Women who are part of WFWP Japan, including many who are not members of the Family Federation and never were, live in a very difficult situation. Their lives have been shattered and they are bullied and discriminated daily in many different ways. The city of Takasaki notified the local chapter of WFWP Japan that it would not permit the use of public facilities, stating that “WFWP is an organization that causes fear among Takasaki residents.” This notification was particularly absurd, given that WFWP as a volunteer organization has been contributing to the local community in Takasaki for thirty years with projects the local citizens know and appreciate.
Many local WFWP Japan chapters were registered as volunteer organizations with their respective local governments. Some of these local governments unilaterally canceled our registrations.
In September, two printing companies refused to print our material after they had agreed to do so. One company stated that, “You are related to the Unification Church, and our company cannot print your order as it would affect our company’s reputation.” We cannot print our version of the story in Japan, and we have problems in telling it orally too, as several hotels have refused to rent rooms to us, again before they are afraid of being attacked by the NNLSS and the media. We did manage to hold two press conferences, and have submitted numerous protest letters to local governments, and released various reports. Unfortunately, our claims have received limited coverage in the media, indicating that most Japanese media outlets blindly follow the NNLSS propaganda and do not prioritize truth.
Our damages are becoming increasingly severe and can only become worse as the process of dissolution of the Family Federation advances. Note that this situation does not affect only our members in Japan. It also endangers the well-being and, in some cases, even the lives of over 20,000 beneficiaries who have been supported by WFWP projects overseas and rely on our help. If we are not allowed to conduct our normal activities and raise funds in Japan, we would be compelled to shut down our projects supporting tens of thousands of women and children in poverty-stricken countries. They will be deprived of the education, food, and shelter we provide and will also become victims of the NNLSS, the Japanese Communist Party, and the slander campaigns in Japan.
How do you plan to react to this persecution?
As a UN-accredited NGO, WFWPI is well-known at the United Nations for its good work on behalf of women in the last thirty years, especially the poorest and most destitute. We have appealed to the United Nations Human Rights Council. The persecution and interference against WFWP, its members, and those who receive help from the organization are acts of religious hatred and clear violations of human rights.
Due to the climate that has been created in Japan, we doubt that media that have spread fake news would correct them. Thousand of women—I repeat, of all religions and of none—whose only crime has been to work for decades as volunteers to help other women throughout the world will continue to be harassed, discriminated, and bullied. Some say that no good deed remains unpunished and this is literally true for WFWP Japan members. Because of their good deeds their lives are being converted into hell. I believe that only international support may change this situation, and I appeal to all those whose mandate is to protect human rights and freedom of religion or belief to issue statements and contact the Japanese government telling them that this persecution should cease.