South Korea Decides to Dismantle ‘Comfort Women’ Reconciliation and Healing Foundation

South Korea Decides to Dismantle 'Comfort Women' Reconciliation and Healing Foundation

Wikimedia Commons / YunHo LEE

 

The Reconciliation and Healing Foundation, established in 2016 to support the victims of Japanese wartime sex slavery, often referred to as “comfort women,” will be dismantled after just two years. The foundation took center-stage in a major controversy that has left Korea and Japan divided more than ever in recent years following an agreement signed in 2015.

South Korea sent an official notification to Japan on the dismantlement of the foundation, the process of which is expected to take somewhere between six months and a year. Experts argue that Korea and Japan will engage in constant exchanges during this period as they collide over the matter of preserving or dismantling the foundation as well as the agreement itself.

Japan raised immediate concern following the South Korean decision. Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party adopted a resolution criticizing the move, asking the Japanese government to call on Korea to retract its decision. The resolution was submitted directly to Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono.

“We criticize South Korea’s constant act of violating international vows with utmost outrage,” the resolution said.

The foundation was a result of an agreement that was signed between the two countries in December 2015 under the Park Geun-hye administration in South Korea. The accord stipulated the intention of both states to “establish a foundation whose purpose is to support former sex slaves,” and to “dispense all funds necessary from Japan’s government budget to restore honor and dignity of the victims.”

The success of the agreement depended not only on the establishment of the foundation, but also on an apology given by the prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe. The Reconciliation and Healing Foundation began carrying out its official responsibilities in July 2016 using the 10 billion won ($8.8 million) budget provided by the Japanese government to pay compensation to the victims and their families. The result was 4.4 billion won given to 34 survivors and the families of 58 who had passed away.

Abe made it clear in October 2016 that he had “not even a single bit” of intention to send a letter of apology that was to be provided in accordance with the agreement.

Without an apology, the sex slave victims and advocates in turn refused to accept the agreement along with the compensation, and the position of the foundation naturally began to crumble.

Then came South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who had previously made clear his opposition to the agreement. The South Korean government soon brought back the agreement for reconsideration, deciding to replace all of Japan’s 10 billion won fund with South Korea’s own government funds. By the end of 2017, all board members of the foundation had resigned, leaving the foundation empty.

The South Korean government then asked victims and advocates to help decide on the fate of the foundation, which led the government to make a final decision on November 21 to dismantle the foundation.

“We will strive to restore honor and dignity of the sex slave victims,” said Jin Seon-mi, South Korean minister of gender equality and family as she delivered the official decision for the dismantlement.

“Under the ‘victims first’ principle, we have decided to dismantle the foundation based on the feedback we’ve collected about the foundation.”

South Korea’s decision is a clear refutation of the Korea-Japan agreement which, from a South Korean perspective, lacks sufficient sincerity.

There is still a long way ahead until any form of dismantlement is achieved. The foundation will now begin to take settlement procedures which is expected to take at least six months, perhaps as much as a year, before it is finally dissolved.

Another major question is what to do with the 10 billion won fund given by Japan. The South Korean government has indicated that the 4.4 billion won already distributed to victims and their families cannot be annulled. As an alternative, the government raised a separate 10.3 billion won budget to return the Japanese fund.

Many expect that Japan will not accept the foundation’s dissolution, since the fund is the focal point of the final resolution of the sex slave issue for Tokyo. Accepting the fund will impose Japan with another round of tasks to engage with South Korea to discuss the matters of a formal apology and compensation.

“We will listen to the victims and advocates as we come up with measures to deal with the 10.3 billion won budget,” said Roh Kyu-deok, spokesperson for South Korean Ministry of foreign affairs.

“We will continue to negotiate with the Japanese government based on those measures.”

 

By Hyunmin Michael Kang, The Diplomat

 

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UN Declares Japan’s Compensation to Comfort Women as Inadequate

Kim Jung-hyo, staff photographer

 

The UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) said that the Japanese government’s view that the comfort women issue has been resolved denies the rights of the victims and contended that Japan’s compensation has been inadequate. The comments represent the committee’s final opinion on this issue.

In a post on its website on Nov. 19, the UN committee expressed its regrets about the Japanese government’s opinion that the comfort women issue has been finally and irreversibly resolved. The committee also voiced its concerns about the fact that Japan has not provided adequate compensation to the victims as required by the international convention on enforced disappearances.

The committee said that the Japanese government’s position that the issue had been finally and irreversibly resolved permanently blocks the prosecution of the perpetrators and denies the victims’ right to justice and compensation and to receive a guarantee that such acts will not reoccur and the public’s right to know the truth. The committee also expressed its concerns about the lack of statistical data about the number of comfort women who might have been victims of enforced disappearance and the lack of any investigation or indictment of the perpetrators.

The committee, which reports to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, reviews conditions in signatories to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which prohibits states from abducting foreigners. The committee reviewed Japan at the beginning of this month.

During the review process, the Japanese government contended that the issue of the comfort women had been finally and irreversibly resolved by an agreement that it reached with South Korea in 2015. Japan also argued that it’s inappropriate for the committee to deal with matters that occurred before the convention came into force.

When the Japanese government provided 1 billion yen (US$8.86 million) to the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation that was established in accordance with its agreement with South Korea, it described this as a “donation,” and not “compensation.”

The committee’s announcement recognizes the injustice of the Japanese government’s position and attitude in regard to the comfort women issue.

But the Japanese government expressed regret about the committee’s judgment and assessment and refused to give its assent. Kyodo News quoted an official with Japan’s delegation to international organizations in Geneva, Switzerland, as saying that “the committee’s final opinion is extremely regrettable, being unilateral and based on misunderstandings and bias.” The wire service reported that the Japanese delegation has also lodged a protest with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

In a related story, Kyodo News reported that the Japanese government has resolved to lodge a sharp protest to the South Korean government if the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation is dissolved. Even so, the Japanese government will not say that the dissolution of the foundation constitutes the abrogation of the agreement between the two nations. The Japanese government appears to have concluded that maintaining its position that the comfort women agreement remains valid while urging the South Korean government to implement that agreement would be in its diplomatic interest.

S. Korean prime minister urges Foreign Ministry to adopt sterner stance

As Japan maintains a hardline attitude on issues affecting its relations with South Korea, South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon apparently addressed the ramifications of a recent decision by the South Korean Supreme Court ordering that Korean victims of slave labor during the Japanese colonial occupation of the peninsula should be compensated by the companies where they worked. In remarks made during a meeting of senior officials at the Office of the Prime Minister on Nov. 15, Lee reportedly reprimanded the South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the ministry responsible for dealing with this ruling, for its passivity and ordered it to make a sterner response.

After the Foreign Ministry briefed Lee on its plan to post an English language translation of the government’s position statement on its website, Lee met with Vice Foreign Minister Cho Hyun to let him know that that plan was inadequate and to instruct him to make a more aggressive response, officials at the Office of the Prime Minister said on Nov. 20.

Senior officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded by saying that they had not been reprimanded by the Prime Minister. “The Ministry is actively working with related agencies to prepare countermeasures, but it’s necessary to exercise caution,” they said.

 

By Cho Ki-weon, Tokyo correspondent, and Park Min-hee, staff reporter, HanKyoReh

‘It Is Not Coming Down’: San Francisco Defends ‘Comfort Women’ Statue as Japan Protests

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

 

The monument has stood in San Francisco for a year. It depicts young women from Korea, China and the Philippines standing on a pedestal holding hands, while a statue of Kim Hak-sun, a Korean activist, gazes up at them.

But the view from Osaka, Japan, of the memorial, which commemorates the tens of thousands of “comfort women” who were detained and raped by Japanese soldiers before and during World War II, has been critical. This week, the controversy boiled over as Osaka officially severed its sister-city partnership with San Francisco.

In a letter dated Tuesday, Osaka’s mayor, Hirofumi Yoshimura, followed through on a threat issued a year ago to end his city’s longstanding relationship with San Francisco in protest of the monument, saying it presented a one-sided message.

“I earnestly request that you promptly remove” the memorial and an accompanying plaque “without further delay,” Mr. Yoshimura wrote, according to an emailed copy of the letter. He added that he would revive ties with San Francisco if they were removed from city property.

That is not going to happen, according to Judith Mirkinson, the president of the Comfort Women Justice Coalition, an alliance of immigrant women’s groups that worked for years to erect the statue and funded it through private donations.

“It is not coming down,” she said.

Jeff Cretan, a spokesman for Mayor London Breed, told local news outlets on Tuesday that he expected some of the ties between the two cities to continue through members of a citizens’ San Francisco-Osaka sister city committee and their counterparts in Osaka.

On Thursday, Ms. Breed said in a statement that one mayor could not unilaterally end a relationship that has existed between the two cities for more than 60 years.

She described the memorial as “a symbol of the struggle faced by all women who have been, and are currently, forced to endure the horrors of enslavement and sex trafficking.”

“These victims deserve our respect and this memorial reminds us all of events and lessons we must never forget,” she added.

Japan’s position on comfort women has been evolving for decades. In 1993, it officially acknowledged that its wartime military had forced women to work in brothels. Former comfort women began to speak out about being forced into brothels, euphemistically called “comfort stations,” in territories occupied by the Imperial Japanese Army.

A United Nations investigation in the 1990s found that comfort stations were in use as early as 1932 and that as many as 200,000 women had been enslaved by the time the war ended in 1945. Most of the women are thought to have been Korean, but some were from China, the Philippines and other countries.

The issue still strains the relationship between South Korea and Japan, two key United States allies whose cooperation is vital to checking North Korea and to balancing China’s power in East Asia.

The sister-city partnership was established in 1957 between Osaka and San Francisco, a city with an Asian population of about 40 percent. In recent years, it has supported student exchanges and cultural events, said Julie Tang, a chairwoman of the Comfort Women Justice Coalition.

But it also set the stage for the monument, known as “Comfort Women: Pillar of Strength,” to become a lightning rod between the two cities.

Several years ago, the coalition and 11 human rights groups organized a grass-roots campaign to build the memorial. In 2015, the city’s board of supervisors approved the construction of the mostly bronze monument.

Despite several letters from Mr. Yoshimura and his predecessor objecting to the statue, it was unveiled in downtown San Francisco on Sept. 22, 2017, the first such statue in a major city in the United States. A city resolution later proclaimed that date to be known as Comfort Women Day to honor the victims.

In November 2017, Mayor Ed Lee of San Francisco signed a resolution to formally designate the statue a city monument. The controversy widened. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan said the move was “not only deeply regrettable, but it also opposes the views of the Japanese government.” Mr. Yoshimura said he would scrap the sister-city ties by the end of the year.

But in December, Mr. Lee died in a hospital after collapsing at a supermarket, and Mr. Yoshimura held off until July, when he sent a letter outlining his objections to Ms. Breed.

In his letter on Oct. 2, with no action taken on the statue, Mr. Yoshimura said the two cities’ official ties were no longer possible, and he highlighted one of his objections over the inscription, which says in part:

“This monument bears witness to the suffering of hundreds of thousands of women and girls, euphemistically called ‘Comfort Women,’ who were sexually enslaved by the Japanese Imperial Armed Forces in thirteen Asian-Pacific countries from 1931-1945.”

He said he would support an inscription that raised awareness about sex trafficking “equally applicable to all countries.”

“He wants to remove the memorial because he is afraid of the truth,” said Lillian Sing, a retired Superior Court judge and a chairwoman of the coalition. “Removing it does not eradicate history.”

 

By Christine Hauser, The New York Times