Comfort women issue is S. Korea’s diplomatic defeat

“Did the South Korean and Japanese government confirm that [the one billion yen to be paid by Japan] was not ‘compensation’?” (a Japanese reporter)
“There has been no change whatsoever in [Tokyo’s] position that the issue of claim rights for comfort women has already been resolved.” (Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida)
The main focus of journalists’ questions at an Aug. 12 press conference by Japanese Foreign Minister Kishida was on the basic nature of a pledged payment of one billion yen (US$9.9 million) by the Japanese government, which Kishida said would be disbursed “as soon as possible” according to a Dec. 28 agreement reached last year with Seoul on the comfort women issue. The reporters asked whether Japan had confirmed with South Korea that the contribution was not intended as compensation for the women’s drafting as sexual slaves to the Japanese military during Korea’s colonization (1910-45).
“There has been no change in the Japanese government’s existing position,” Kishida replied.
It was a brief exchange, but it reaffirmed what kind of deal the Dec. 28 agreement actually was.
Seoul and Tokyo’s battle on the comfort women issue over the past five years appears likely to go down in history as a defining moment in diplomatic history – one that made clear just how far South Korea’s power and autonomy reach in a northeast Asia order where conflict between the US and China is surfacing ever more visibly.
The emergence of the comfort women as a major social issue in South Korea came in the wake of a historic press conference on Aug. 14, 1991, by survivor Kim Hak-sun. After South Korea became a democracy in the late 1980s, comfort women survivors in South Korea began waging a concerted campaign to demand reparations and compensation from the Japanese government. Their calls were met with an adamant insistence from Tokyo that individual rights to claim damages had disappeared with the 1965 Korea-Japan Claims Settlement Agreement. Japan did propose a compromise: the Asian Women’s Fund (1995-2007) which acknowledged its “moral responsibility” rather than its legal responsibility for the inexpungible crime against women. It was the first “seal” on the comfort women issue.
The next two decades or so saw a dogged battle by the survivors and South Korean civil society, which used relationships of international solidarity to build a global understanding that the victims had been sexual slaves, and the system a war crime by Japan. At home, they waged a campaign to make the South Korea-Japan agreement document public. As a result, Seoul modified its previous position in Aug. 2005 to argue that three major issues had not been resolved by the agreement: the comfort women, Koreans on Sakhalin Island, and victims in the atomic bombings of Japan. The Constitutional Court ruled in Aug. 2011 that it was unconstitutional for Seoul not to engage in diplomatic negotiations with Tokyo to resolve the comfort women issue. The first seal had been broken.
The national fervor was carried on by Park Geun-hye: after becoming president in Feb. 2013, she ended up in a stiff battle with the Shinzo Abe administration with her demands for a “good-faith first step” from Tokyo on the issue.
This was more or less the limit of what Seoul could do alone diplomatically, however. As US-China frictions escalated, Washington announced in Oct. 2013 that it “welcomed” Japan’s exercise of collective self-defense rights. By the spring of 2015, senior US officials were being vocal about the need for all three sides to – as US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter put it in April – “face the future.” By the time of last year’s Liberation Day address on Aug. 15, Seoul had changed course, accepting the insulting statement by Abe – which made no mention at all of Japan’s colonization of other Asian countries – and attempting to improve relations. The Dec. 28 agreement was the logical result. With it, the victims’ rightful demands were once again sealed away.
The South Korean government has tried to present its actions as a “resolution” to the issue. But as the strenuous objections from the victims and public show, the deal is being seen as a lopsided diplomatic defeat. Kishida’s comments on Aug. 12 suggest the remain negotiations will be tough. That day, Kishida said the one billion yen could only be used within “the scope of uses agreed upon by the Japanese and South Korean governments,” and that steps would be taken to ensure the “expenditure for projects” would not be given as a lump-sum payment to individual victims. South Korea finds itself in the situation of having the comfort women issue “finally and irreversibly” resolved as a condition for receiving one billion yen that it cannot even use as it wants. Faced with the US’s East Asia strategy, Japan’s historical revision, the Park administration’s weak sense of her place in history, all the achievements made by South Korean society in the 71 years since liberation now appear to be going up in smoke.
By Gil Yun-hyung, Tokyo correspondent, HynKyuRe News Daily

UN rapporteur speaks out against comfort women descriptions in Japanese textbooks

 

A special rapporteur for the UN has expressed serious concern about the Japanese government’s attempts to influence how textbooks describe the issue of the comfort women for the Imperial Japanese Army.
During a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo on Apr. 19, David Kaye, Special Rapporteur for the United Nations Human Rights Council, said that the Japanese government must both be careful about meddling in the interpretation of historical incidents and be diligent to try to inform its citizens about severe crimes such as the comfort women system.
Kaye arrived in Japan on Apr. 12 to look into the critical situation surrounding the freedom of the press and the freedom of expression in the country, and on Tuesday he publicly announced his provisional findings.
After Kim Hak-sun first testified in Aug. 1991 that she had been a comfort woman for the Imperial Japanese army, Japanese middle school and high school textbooks written in the mid-1990s gave substantial coverage to the comfort women issue.
But following an overall rightward shift in Japanese society, descriptions of the comfort women for the most part disappeared from middle school textbooks in 2006. The high school textbooks that will begin to be used next year have significantly watered down their description of the compulsory nature of the comfort women system. The phrase “rounded up by Japanese troops” is being replaced by “women who were recruited,” for example.
Addressing such trends in Japanese society, Kaye noted that he had heard about the removal of descriptions of the comfort women. “Government interference with how textbooks treat the reality of the crimes committed during the Second World War undermines the public’s right to know and its ability to grapple with and understand its past,” he said.
Kaye also addressed the hate speech and discrimination against minorities that is widespread in Japan today.
“Japan does not have comprehensive legislation to combat discrimination,” Kaye said. “Such legislation is the critical first step toward dealing with hateful expression: Japan must adopt a broadly applicable anti-discrimination law.”
The Liberal Democratic Party is currently drafting a bill related to this, but it would not explicitly forbid racially motivated hate speech.
The attacks on Takashi Uemura, former reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, who first covered the testimony of Kim Hak-sun, and comments by Japan’s Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Sanae Takaichi that the government could shut down broadcasters who continue to air politically biased programs are threats against the press, Kaye said.
By Gil Yun-hyung, Tokyo correspondent, Hankyure Newspaper, english@hani.co.kr

 

Korean surviving comfort women donated money for Japanese earthquake victims

Wednesday, April 20, 2016, another  ‘Wednesday Protest’ was held in front of Japanese Embassy in Seoul, S.Korea to acknowledge surviving comfort women in history and asking genuine apology from Japanese government.

Kim, Bok-dong(90) and Kil, Won-ok(87), surviving comfort women attending the protest, donated $1300 for recent earthquake victims and their families in Japan.

“We are not fighting against Japanese people. We are simply asking to acknowledge the dark part of history and its victims, us, during World War2.”

“We sincerely hope the victims from the earthquake will get back to their lives soon..”

Asked for an interview, the old ladies talked earnestly. Also, during the protest, on-site donation was held among protesters.

 

 

UN lambasts Japanese PM over ‘comfort women’

The United Nations has urged Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other leaders to stop making disparaging remarks on “comfort women,” the first official warning from the international organization since South Korea and Japan reached an agreement to settle the issue in December.

The accord was signed on the conditions that Japan would deliver a sincere apology to sex slavery victims in Korea and do nothing that can be considered defamatory to them. Nevertheless, some politicians and bureaucrats there, including conservative lawmaker Yoshitaka Sakurada, have ignored the agreement, denying Japan’s responsibility for its atrocities during World War II.

Their repeated violations have enraged victims and Korean people, pressing the Seoul government to nullify the agreement.

“The committee, therefore, considers that it is not precluded ratione temporis from addressing such violations,” the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) said Monday. The committee called on Japan to ensure its leaders and public officials “desist from making disparaging statements regarding responsibility, which have the effect of re-traumatizing victims.”

The CEDAW said Japan had shown continued lack of effective remedies for the victims, adding the bilateral accord did not fully adopt a victim-centered approach.

“Japan (should) take due account of the views of the victims and ensure their rights to truth, justice, and reparations,” it said.

The committee also expressed worry about references to comfort women deleted from Japanese school textbooks, asking Japan to reinstate them.

By Dahee Kim, The Korea Times

Spirits’Homecoming warm reception in North America

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The movie, Spirits’ Homecoming has got very positive reception from North American audience, resulting broader release on Cineplex Cinemas Empress Walk in Canada(Starting from Mar.18), AMC Empire 25 in Manhattan, NewYork,  AMC Loews Bay Terrace in Queens, New York, Edgewater Multiplex Cinemas & AMC Starplex Ridgefield  Park12 in New Jersey, AMC Showplace Niles 12 in Chicago, AMC Cupertino Square16 in San Jose, CA, AMC Loews Alderwood Mall16 in Seattle, WA, AMC Sugarloaf Mills18 in Atlanta, GA, and AMC Fashion Valley18 in SanDiego, CA.

‘Guihyang'(Spirit’s homecoming), a movie about an abducted girl’s journey as a comfort woman

Teaser of ‘Guihyang’ on Youtube

Official movie website: http://www.guihyang.com

Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/makingguihyang

tposter_spirits_homecoming

The film ‘Spirits’ Homecoming’ is based on the true story of Kang Il-chul , who was forced to become sex slave for the Imperial Japanese Army during the 1940s.

Born in 1928, she was taken by force to Comfort Stations by Japanese army in 1943, when she was only sixteen years old. This movie portrays a teenage girl’s struggle who was stripped of her human rights and dignity in the name of war and the militarism.

Unlike Germany, modern day Japan government has not made amends for their war crimes of the past. Rather, the Rightist faction, which influences great control over Japanese politics insists on unacceptable arguments as they deny the forced conscription of Comfort Women along with other historically known war crime facts.

The film does not seek simply to criticize the Japanese government nor does it seek to provide shallow comfort for the victims. Instead it aims to highlight the devastation and tragedy of the history caused by the military of Imperial Japan, and to heartily send out the message that this cannot be repeated. So, we dare say that this is not the story of the ‘past’ but of the ‘future’ for all. Furthermore, this is a ‘healing movie’ that focuses on alleviating the pain of the past.

Today, only a small number of victims remain alive. It is imperative that their stories be recorded and told to the world.

The Reason to Never Forget – origins of our tale
In the winter of 2002, when Director Cho visited ‘The House of Sharing’ to perform as a traditional Korean drummer for ‘Japanese Military Comfort Women’ victims who reside there, he met Kang Il-chul.

Ms. Kang, one of the Comfort Women victims, born in 1928, was only 16 when she was forcefully ‘recruited’ by a Japanese officer. She was taken to a Comfort Station in Mundanjiang, China, and was forced to work as a ‘sex slave’ for Japanese Soldiers.

Towards the end of war, after years of indescribable torment and abuse, she was diagnosed with typhoid. She was then, transferred outside the army camp, along with other girls who were also considered ‘useless’, to be thrown into a fire pit for disposal.

Right before she was thrown into the fire pit, she was able to make a dramatic escape thanks to a surprise attack from the Korean Independence Army at the time. From then on, she dwelled in China, with no way to go home but longing to return. In 1998, after years of waiting she was able to come home, and decided to reside in ‘the House of Sharing’ along with other victims.

In 2001, during an art psychotherapy conducted at ‘the House of Sharing’, she drew ‘Burning Virgins’ which depicts her own experience. After encountering her picture, Director Cho, shocked by the horrible truth and tragedy young girls’ lives trampled brutally, grieved deeply and wrote a scenario which gave life to the movie – Spirits’ Homecoming.

From the ‘Guihyang’, official site.

China, Taiwan Apply Pressure to Japan Over ‘Comfort Women’ Issue

 

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A Chinese girl from one of the Japanese Army’s “comfort battalions” sits on a stretcher, awaiting interrogation at a camp in RangoonA Chinese girl from one of the Japanese Army’s “comfort battalions” sits on a stretcher, awaiting interrogation at a camp in Rangoon

Image Credit: UK Imperial War Museums

On December 28, Japan and South Korea announced a landmark deal to resolve the issue of “comfort women,” the euphemism used for women forced to sexually service Imperial Japanese Army troops during World War II. The deal announced last Monday sees Shinzo Abe apologize, as Japan’s prime minister, for the women’s suffering. Japan’s government also pledged to provide 1 billion yen ($8.3 million) to a fund for the women, to be established by the South Korean government.

The “comfort women” issue, and the degree to which Japan’s government will (or won’t) accept responsibility for the forced recruitment of the women, has been a major flashpoint in Japan-South Korea relations. However, South Korea isn’t the only country from which “comfort women” were drawn, and the deal between South Korea and Japan has sparked mixed reactions from other states — most notably China and Taiwan.

China (along with South Korea) has been the most vocal in accusing Japan’ of “whitewashing” history. Unsurprisingly, then, Beijing adopted a cautious stance on the comfort women deal, insisting that it would have to “wait and see” whether Japan’s actions matched its words. When the deal was announced, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang spent more time highlighting the historical issue than addressing the deal. “The forced recruitment of the ‘comfort women’ is a grave crime against humanity committed by the Japanese militarism during the Second World War against people of Asian and other victimized countries,” Lu said, urging Japan to “face up to and reflect upon its history of aggression and properly deal with the relevant issue with a sense of responsibility.”

The general consensus in Chinese state media is that the comfort women deal does not go far enough. Xinhua in particular has repeatedly called Japan’s sincerity into question in its articles on the agreement (see here, here, and here for examples). In particular, Xinhua argued that by making a deal specifically with South Korea, Japan was not acknowledging the full extent of the “comfort women” issue. “Apart from Korean women, victims also include the women of China, the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries, who also deserve an apology and compensation,” one Xinhua editorial pointed out.

The last surviving member of a group of Chinese comfort woman seeking to sue the Japanese government passed away in November at the age of 89. Yet the issue continues to live on, with China’s first memorial to the comfort women opening in December in the city of Nanjing. Beijing also sought to have documents related to the comfort women issue inscribed in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register, though that attempt was unsuccessful.

When asked if China would hold its own talks with Japan on the comfort women issue, Lu simply repeated China’s call for Japan “to face squarely and reflect upon its history of aggression and deal with the relevant issue in a responsible manner.” Though Chinese state media has called for Japan to apologize to and compensate comfort women of all nationalities, there’s no indication the that government is seriously negotiating on the issue with Japan.

By contrast, Taiwan is preparing to enter negotiations with Japan, seeking a deal similar to the one announced with South Korea. On December 29, President Ma Ying-jeou reiterated his government’s stance on the comfort women issue, saying, “The Republic of China government has always said that Japan should apologize to Taiwanese comfort women and offer compensation to them.” The same day, Foreign Minister David Lin said Taiwan would “continue negotiating with Japan to restore the dignity of Taiwan women forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese army.” He said Japan had agreed to adopt a “flexible” stance and conduct negotiations, which will start in January in Tokyo.

On Tuesday, a cross-agency working group (which including a comfort women advocacy group, the Taipei Women’s Rescue Foundation) met to hammer out a strategy for negotiations with Japan. According to Taiwan’s Central News Agency, Taipei will ask Tokyo to “issue a formal apology to Taiwanese comfort women, offer compensation to the surviving women, and restore their reputation.” Taiwan’s top representative in Japan, Shen Ssu-tsun, met on Monday with the head of Japan’s Interchange Association, which handles relations with Taiwan, to discuss the issue.

Charles Chen, a spokesperson for Taiwan’s Presidential Office, confirmed on Tuesday that Taiwan wants the same deal that Japan offered to South Korea. However, Taiwan was unnerved by comments from Japan’s chief cabinet secretary that Tokyo does not, in fact, intend to start a new round of negotiations with other countries based on the South Korea deal. Yoshihide Suga told reporters that Japan has dealt with the issue “in a sincere manner considering each circumstance” in different countries. He indicated that the situations in other countries were “different” from the one in South Korea, suggesting that Japan will not extend to same offer to other governments.

According to the Taipei Women’s Rescue Foundation, there were around 2,000 Taiwanese women forced into sexual slavery during World War II. Of the 58 who came forward to demand an apology and compensation from Japan, four are still alive.

By Shannon Tiezzi from The Diplomat