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Filipino activist erects comfort women memorial on private property

The life-sized bronze statue representing the Filipino comfort women victims(Nelia Sanch’s Facebook)


A statue paying tribute to the victims of sexual slavery under the Imperial Japanese army, euphemistically referred to as the “comfort women,” has been erected in Caticlan on the island of Panay in the Philippines, the gateway to the famous vacation hotspot Boracay.

Japanese daily Sankei Shimbun reported on Feb. 6 that Filipino activist Nelia Sancho had erected a life-sized bronze statue representing the Filipino women victims of the Japanese comfort stations, and held an unveiling ceremony. Sancho is the head of an international solidarity conference calling for the resolution of Japan’s wartime past. The bronze statue was completed in July 2018, with about 700,000 pesos (US$13,381) of personal and donated funds, and is engraved with words that salute the “Filipino comfort women who were victims of sex slavery by the Japanese military during the Second World War.”

The statue was built by sculptor Carlos Anorico Sancho over two months. Sancho erected the statue in a parking lot she owns along Caticlan Jetty Port Road, a close walk to a port where tourist board Boracay-bound boats. Sancho said, “Now [the Japanese government] cannot pressure us to remove the statue.” In 2017, a stone monument to the comfort women was erected in Manila, the Filipino capital, and in December 2018 a statue of a young girl donated by a Korean organization was erected in San Pedro, near Manila. However, due to pressure from the Japanese government both monuments were removed. Sancho, then, was referring to the fact that because her statue was erected on private property, she would not have to remove it, regardless of pressure from the Japanese government.

There were approximately 20 participants from Taiwan, North Korea, South Korea and Japan at the unveiling ceremony on Feb. 5, and about 70 students from a local high school, who recited a poem honoring the victims of wartime sex slavery. Japan invaded the Philippines in 1941, when it was part of US territory, and Filipino women became the victims of the Japanese military’s “comfort stations.” Since the testimony of Kim Hak-soon (deceased) in 1992, Filipino victims have also come out to testify.


By Cho Ki-weon, Hankyoreh


South Korea Lawmaker Seeks Imperial Apology for Japan Sex Slaves

Japan’s emperor should hold hands with women forced to work in the country’s military brothels and make a personal apology if Tokyo wants to end the decades-old dispute, South Korea’s top lawmaker said.

National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang said in an interview Thursday that Japanese Emperor Akihito — as the “the son of the main culprit of war crimes” — should deliver the apology before his planned abdication in May. Moon was asked how the two U.S. allies could resolve a worsening diplomatic feud fueled by disagreements over Japan’s 1910-45 occupation of the Korean Peninsula, much of it under the emperor’s late father, Hirohito.

“It only takes one word from the prime minister, who represents Japan — I wish the emperor would do it since he will step down soon,” said Moon, South Korea’s No. 2 elected official and a former presidential envoy to Japan. “Isn’t he the son of the main culprit of war crimes?

“So, if a person like that holds the hands of the elderly and says he’s really sorry, then that one word will resolve matters once and for all,” he said.

The Japanese prime minister’s office didn’t immediately respond Friday to a request for comment on Moon’s remarks.

The speaker’s comments underscore the widening divide between the neighbors, whose ties have sunk to one of their lowest points in more than half a century. The direct challenge to the emperor — a revered figure, whose father was once considered a living god — risked further angering Japan.

While Akihito offered his “deepest regret” in 1990 for Japan’s colonization of the peninsula, many Koreans argue the country has failed to properly atone for specific wrongdoings, especially forcing local women to serve as “comfort women” in military brothels. Former South Korean President Lee Myung-bak outraged Japan in 2012 when he demanded a fuller apology as a condition for an imperial visit.

The dispute reemerged after President Moon Jae-in was elected in 2017 and moved to undo the comfort women pact his predecessor reached with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. After the death of comfort woman-turned-campaigner Kim Bok-dong last month, Moon vowed to do everything in his power to “correct the history” for the 23 surviving victims.

In the interview, Moon Hee-sang said the “most sincere apologies” and compensation fund Abe offered comfort women in the December 2015 deal fell short of the sort of personal contrition German leaders have shown for their own country’s wartime atrocities.

“That is a legal apology,” he said Thursday. “Countries can exchange apologies, but the problem is there are victims.”

More than 90 percent of South Koreans believed that Japan still needed to apologize over the comfort women issue, according to a joint survey of both countries published by the Seoul-based Hankook Daily and Tokyo-based Yomiuri newspaper in July. That compared with less than 8 percent of Japanese who said another statement was necessary.

In 2001, Akihito told reporters that he felt affinity with Korea because one of his ancestors was said to have married a Korean princess. The 85-year-old monarch is due to cede the throne to Crown Prince Naruhito in May, after saying his declining health had made it difficult to carry out his duties.

Moon Hee-sang, 73, has long been a fixture in progressive South Korean political circles and served as a top aide to the current president’s mentor. In July, he was elected speaker of the 300-seat National Assembly, a position of ceremonial rank second only to the president. The pair are not related.


Washington Visit

The speaker will likely be asked about South Korea-Japan ties next week, when he’s slated to lead a multiparty delegation to Washington to meet top U.S. officials including American counterpart Nancy Pelosi. The two sides are also expected to discuss U.S. President Donald Trump’s next meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un later this month in Vietnam.

Moon Hee-sang described the summit as a “great opportunity that arrives once in a thousand years” to establish peace on the peninsula, which been in a state of unresolved war since 1950. Reduced hostilities between the two Koreas would also improve ties with Japan, he said.

The speaker credited Moon Jae-in with bringing Trump and Kim to the negotiating table.

“He is the president who has won trust from the both sides,” Moon Hee-sang said. “The three have a fantastic chemistry.”

— With assistance by Jon Herskovitz, Isabel Reynolds, and Emi Nobuhiro


By Youkyung Lee, Bloomberg

Wednesday comfort women rally to take place as usual, despite death of ex-sex slavery victim Kim Bok-dong


The weekly “Wednesday rally” near the Japanese embassy in South Korea will be held as usual in Seoul today, despite the recent passing of Kim Bok-dong, a former “comfort woman” and well-known activist for the victims.
The rally, which marks its 27th anniversary this year, calls for Tokyo’s official apology and due compensation to the Korean victims of its wartime sexual enslavement.
The Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan says the participants will take a moment to cherish the memory of Kim and all the other victims who have died recently.


Reporter : hyosunee88@gmail.com, Arirang

A filmmaker’s six-year journey filming with Asia’s ‘comfort women’

‘The Apology’ writer and director Tiffany Hsiung was drawn to tell the stories of Japan’s surviving ‘comfort women’ [Tiffany Hsiung]

In 2009, a trip to Asia would change my life forever. That’s when I first met “The Grandmothers”. Prior to that trip, I knew very little about the atrocities that occurred during the second world war in Asia – specifically, the institutionalised sexual slavery system that held captive about 200,000 girls and young women.

When I asked the elders in my family to tell me stories about the past and what it was like during the war, they would shake their heads slowly and somberly say, “没有什么好说的, 不好听”, which means: “There’s nothing good to say, nothing good to hear.” And that was the end of my history lesson.

As a “CBC” (Canadian Born Chinese), I often felt conflicted culturally. The North American approach is to speak out against injustice, while the Chinese way of dealing with hardship is to “吃苦”, which literally translates to “swallow the bitterness”. And of course, one must always “save face” to preserve pride and honour. I was first confronted with this dilemma as an eight-year-old, after being sexually assaulted at home by a so-called family friend. I was paralysed by the choices I could make but, either way, I felt that my world had already been shattered.

I chose the temporary comfort and safety of keeping silent and, like the women of generations before me, I just learned to “swallow the bitterness”. Fast forward 17 years later, and I would meet these remarkable women in my film, The Apology. History refers to them as “Comfort Women” – a term used by the Japanese Imperial Army to describe the girls and women they forced into sexual slavery. But to me, they are the Grandmothers.

What started off as a journey to uncover this dark history of human atrocities soon turned into an exploration of perseverance. When Korean survivor Kim Hak-Sun first spoke out publicly six decades after World War II, in 1991, she set off a chain reaction. Other women in their respective countries started to speak out too, and the world would hear testimony after testimony from hundreds of women describing unimaginable crimes against them – all with the hope that justice would soon follow. Twenty-eight years later, their fight continues.

After the first few years of spending time with Grandma Cao in China, Grandma Gil in Korea, and Grandma Adela in the Philippines, it was clear there was more to this chapter in history, more than just the sexual slavery, more to these women that people weren’t seeing. I came to learn about their lives after the war, and how they had survived. They had incredible resilience, made tremendous sacrifices, and ultimately displayed the true power of the human spirit.

Over the course of six years, each of the communities we filmed demonstrated the importance of camaraderie. Knowing that you aren’t alone and that you will be supported after disclosing your past can make the difference between speaking out and living the rest of your life in silence, or carrying the burden and pain of what you experienced as a victim. Society has perpetuated a culture of shame that has resulted in decades, or even a lifetime of silence for survivors of sexual violence.

These days the “Me Too” and “Time’s Up” movements are sparking a global dialogue that de-stigmatises and reframes what it means to be a victim of sexual violence. The Grandmothers have taught me that although my past does not define me, the journey to come to terms with my past makes me who I am today. Discovering why I wanted to make this film was extremely difficult because I thought it was a story I wanted to tell when, in fact, it became a story I always needed to tell. It’s a story for the eight-year-old girl within me that struggled to tell her own family about the abuse. It’s a story for all the courageous Grandmothers who survived months and years of sexual slavery. It’s a story for every survivor that never had the space to be known outside the ugly crimes committed against them. It’s a story that brings to light the millions of untold stories of sexual violence that continue to go unheard.


By Tiffany Hsiung, Aljazeera

Japan’s ‘comfort women’ cannot be eradicated

IN December 2017, a memorial was erected along the Roxas Boulevard facing Manila Bay. It commemorated the Filipino comfort women who were forced to work as sexual slaves in Japanese military brothels during World War 2.

In late April 2018, after Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was “extremely regrettable” that such statues were erected, the Philippines’ Department of Public Works and Highways removed the statue. As Japan has an important role in infrastructure investment, President Rodrigo Duterte suggested the statue could be placed on private property.

On December 28, another statue for the former comfort women was installed in a Catholic-run shelter for the elderly and the homeless in San Pedro, Laguna. After the Japanese embassy in Manila stated such statues were “extremely disappointing, not compatible with the Japanese government,” the statue was removed two days later.

This time the Duterte government noted that the statue was “dedicated to peace and women’s empowerment,” used private funds and was built inside private property. It was freedom of expression. Lila Pilipina, an advocacy group for Filipino comfort women, said the Japanese government was demanding that we “forget its war crime.”

The removal of the second statue fosters a perception that there is a systematic effort by the Shinzo Abe government to eradicate public statues for comfort women. By the same logic, all Holocaust memorials should be taken down, along with other memorials dedicated to historical atrocities because they all are inconvenient reminders of the past. Yet, the German government has a very different stance toward the Nazi era. Mental lobotomy does not prevent real-life tragedies.

Until 1993, the Japanese government had denied the history of the comfort women. But that year, after a government study, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono recognized that the Japanese Imperial Army had forced comfort women to work in military-run brothels during World War 2. In 2015, Kono reaffirmed the statement.

So, why is the Abe administration revising history? The reasons are historical — and perhaps personal.

Sexual slavery, Nobusuke Kishi and Cold War
The number of Japan’s wartime sex slaves has been estimated at 200,000 women, although Chinese scholars in Shanghai, where a Japanese “comfort station” was established already in 1932, put the real figure at 360,000 to 400,000.

In revisionist Japanese history, the role of these women has been downplayed. The very term comfort women is a euphemism for the Japanese Imperial Army’s sex slaves. Most women were from areas occupied by Japan, particularly China and Korea, but also the Philippines. There were comfort stations in Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, Indonesia, Singapore, East Timor and elsewhere. There were also hundreds of “comfort women” from the Netherlands and Australia.

Unlike his predecessors as prime minister and head of the Liberal Democratic Party, Abe has far-right views about history. He belongs to the ultranationalist Nippon Kaigi, which seeks to re-militarize Japan and to revive Imperial Japan and which, among other things, vehemently denies Japan’s comfort women history during World War 2. That’s why in the late 1990s, he led the controversial Japanese history textbook reform, which downplayed Japan’s war crimes, including crimes against comfort women.

But there is also a more personal reason. Abe comes from a political family dynasty. His grandfather Kan Abe and father Shintaro Abe were prominent politicians. His mother is the daughter of the highly controversial former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi. Starting in 1933, Kishi praised Nazi Germany as Japan’s model. In 1937, he signed a degree calling for the use of slave labor in Japanese puppet state Manchukuo. The enslavement of men paved the way for the exploitation of Chinese, Korean and other women as sex slaves in Japan’s occupied colonies in Asia.

Due to Kishi’s brutal rule in Manchukuo and his participation in the Tojo War Cabinet during World War 2, he was imprisoned for over three years as a Class A war criminal. In Germany, Nazi leaders were prosecuted, but not in Japan. When Washington launched its Cold War against the Soviet Union, it needed Japan as a key ally in Asia.

That’s when many Japanese war leaders were freed and enlisted by the United States to suppress Japanese communists and socialists. The most notable of them was Kishi, “America’s favorite war criminal.” who played a key role in the “1955 System,” which made the Liberal Democratic Party the dominant political force in Japan and America’s key ally until today.

Rising stakes in international debate
Wartime sex slaves are not “just history.” While Abe’s reformers have tried to open the economy to more women, his politics promotes a remilitarization that most Japanese oppose. And while Japan is one of the world’s major economies, it ranks only 110th worldwide in the Global Gender Report, far behind Myanmar and India. The lingering imperial fantasies contribute to Japan’s economic decline.

Forced silence about wartime sexual slavery is not acceptable in the rest of Asia. In December, 2015, Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye, who was later impeached for corruption, agreed to settle the “comfort women” dispute. Tokyo would pay a paltry $8.3 million to a fund supporting remaining victims. South Korea would remain mum about the issue and remove a memorial statue for the victims.

South Koreans criticized the odd pact. After the imprisonment of Park, Seoul began to demand recognition for its victims, along with the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The UN human rights commission (OHCHR) also called on Japan to acknowledge its violation of the human rights of comfort women, take legal responsibility and punish responsible individuals.

As international appeals did not work, the debate moved to a new stage. Recently, a South Korean court authorized the seizure of assets belonging to Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal, after the Japanese firm failed to comply with an earlier order to compensate victims of forced labor. Last week, Tokyo called the court decision “extremely regrettable,” while South Korean President Moon Jae-in urged Japan not to “politicize the issue” and to take a “more humble attitude towards the past.”

The issue of the comfort women should not be politicized. As the Kono statement evidences, most of Japan’s political leadership and most Japanese have acknowledged the comfort women history since the early 1990s. As polls indicate, only about a fifth of the population doesn’t — and that’s Abe’s core constituency.

If the Abe administration fails to acknowledge the past, it cannot win the future that overshadows a prosperous, but heavily indebted and declining nation.

The statues to commemorate the legacy of comfort women represent historical veracity and overdue moral right. Efforts to eradicate them will ultimately fail. When one is taken down, another will be erected elsewhere – until the truth prevails.


By Dan Steinbock, The Manila Times

For comfort women who want an apology, time is running out

Statues of former comfort women who have passed away at the House of Sharing. /CGTN Photo


Yi Ok-seon lies on her bed in a small room at House of Healing in South Korea.

At 92 she is surrounded by photographs of meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and other dignitaries, and a few of her as a young girl.

But there is a gap in this photographic history. There is no trace of her time spent as a sex slave for the Japanese army during World War II.

Yi Ok-seon says she was dragged from her workplace at the age of 15, by two men, one South Korean and one Japanese. She was sent to China where she was forced, through violence, to work in a Japanese military brothel.

Yi was a fierce opponent of the compensation sent by Japan as part of a deal struck with South Korea in 2015 and, like many former so-called “comfort women,” applauded South Korea’s decision to disband the Japan-funded foundation set up to financially assist former wartime sex slaves.

“Japan brought the money to (South) Korea to reach an agreement. That money was given to us to shut our mouths up. That’s wrong. I felt good when they got rid of the foundation,” says Yi, perched on the edge of her bed with a fierce glint still in her eye as she speaks of the events that stole her youth.

Scrapping the compensation aspect of the deal was not the only part of the agreement to break down.

One of Japan’s key complaints was the comfort women statue outside its embassy in Seoul.

Under the compensation deal the comfort women statue was supposed to have been removed. Instead, it remained and about 50 more were placed across South Korea, a move that so angered Japan that last year it temporarily withdrew its ambassador from Seoul.

“As the agreement between (South) Korea and Japan has not been scrapped, we started protesting by insisting on the abolition of the agreement. We will help the grandmothers by protesting here until the agreement is scrapped,” says Kim Sun-kyung, a student who is one of the many volunteers who spend time in a makeshift translucent tent next to the statue to ensure it is not removed.

As part of the deal Japan did offer a statement of “apology and remorse” as well as compensation, to be distributed through the now defunct foundation.

But the director of the House of Sharing, Ahn Shin-kwon, says former comfort women were not consulted in the lead-up to the agreement, which they believe avoided explicit responsibility and was meant to silence the issue as much as settle it.

“Despite the war crimes, human rights abuses and women used as tools of war the agreement did not include education for the current generation and future generations, rather they tried to hide the victims’ problems forever,” says Kwon.

Ahn says the issue can be settled if a more human approach is taken that fully acknowledges historical wrongs and seeks genuine reconciliation.

Across the hall from Yi Ok-seon, another former comfort women Kim Soon-ok sleeps with the help of a respirator.

Time is running out for these women who continue to ask for one core thing, an apology from Japan that is linked to a full acknowledgment of what the women were subjected to.


By Jack Barton, CGTN

S Korean ‘comfort women’ still waiting for apology after 22 years


Supporters of South Korean women forced into sexual slavery in Japan’s military brothels during and after World War II have held a rally outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul.

Rallies in support of the victims – known as comfort women – have been held every week for 22 years.

They are calling for a formal apology and compensation for the thousands of women affected.

Tom Santorelli reports.(BBC)