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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


U.S. envoy denounces Japan’s wartime sex slavery as ‘grave human rights violation’

The U.S. ambassador to Seoul said Thursday Japan’s sexual enslavement of Korean women during World War II is “a grave human rights violation,” expressing hope for Tokyo to take steps to ease the pains of victims.

Sung Kim made the remarks at a forum hosted by the Kwanhun Club, a senior journalists’ association, in Seoul, echoing Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se’s criticism the previous day in Geneva of Japan’s attempts to deny its wartime atrocities.

“Yes, I agree (with Yun),” Kim said. “The comfort women issue, or the sex slavery issue, is a grave human rights violation.”

Historians say up to 200,000 women, mostly Koreans, were coerced into sexual slavery for Japanese soldiers during World War II. Japan ruled the Korean Peninsula as a colony from 1910-45.

Tokyo, however, has been trying to whitewash its history of the sexual atrocities, with the Shinzo Abe government vowing to re-examine a 1993 statement where the country acknowledged and apologized for its war crimes.

Stressing his own and his country’s understanding of “the pains of the surviving women,” the U.S. diplomat said, “We very much hope that the Japanese leadership addresses this important issue in a way that eases the pain of the victims.”

The soured Seoul-Tokyo relations “are not only bad for the two countries but harm the U.S. interests and the peace and stability of the whole region,” Kim said.

While guarding against any “mediating role” by the U.S., he said Washington can “encourage the leadership of the two countries to address the issue in a way that satisfies concerns and eases pain.”

“We very much hope that we can see some positive momentum in the relations between South Korea and Japan.”

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun delivered a tough message to Japan in his speech at the 25th regular session of the U.N. Human Rights Council, saying Japan has shown an attitude of “affronting humanity and disregarding the historical truth” and “challenging recommendations to Japan by U.N. mechanisms” by not repenting for its past behaviors.

Yun said taking the international stage to raise the comfort women issue was to raise awareness around the world and seek solutions to these “universal human rights issues.”

Asked about ways to resolve the North Korean nuclear weapons program, the U.S. diplomat said he believes that the six-party talks “are still a useful forum” and stressed Washington’s will to resume the stalled meeting.

The multilateral talks, which involve both Koreas, the U.S., Japan, China and Russia, have been dormant since late 2008.

“The North Korean nuclear issue is still very much at the top of the foreign policy of the U.S.,” the ambassador said. “People often equate lack of progress with lack of interests in Washington. That’s not the case at all in this case.”

Pointing to current circumstances as a reason for its “prudent” approach, he said the U.S. “will continue to work very hard with South Korea and China to try to come up with the resumption of the talks” with a goal to make “a serious lasting progress” in the denuclearization matter.

Especially following the stunning execution of leader Kim Jong-un’s uncle and No. 2 man, Jang Song-thaek, political uncertainty and instability in the reclusive country have grown, according to watchers.

“Many questions and many answers exist about the situation in North Korea. This is why it is so critical, so important for us to continue to maintain the strongest possible deterrent capability so that we will be prepared for whatever happens in North Korea,” he said.

S. Korea takes ‘comfort women’ issue to U.N. forum

GENEVA–South Korea’s foreign minister for the first time has raised the dispute with Japan over “comfort women” at a United Nations forum, calling the wartime system of sexual enslavement a “universal human rights issue.”

In a keynote address at the U.N. Human Rights Council on March 5, Yun Byung-se also lambasted recent moves by political leaders in Japan who want to revise a landmark 1993 government statement of apology to former comfort women.

Japan’s attitude “is an affront to humanity and disregards the historical truth,” he said.

The 1993 statement, issued in the name of Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, acknowledged the involvement of the Imperial Japanese Army in the recruitment of women who were forced to provide sex to Japanese wartime troops.

Yun also criticized recent remarks by Yoshitaka Sakurada, the senior vice minister of education, who openly supported moves to review the 1993 apology.

According to the South Korean government, it was the first time for its foreign minister to raise the comfort women issue at the UNHRC.

Yun emphasized that the international community has been working hard to put an end to sexual violence in armed conflicts since the Rwanda genocide and the war in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. He said that “without repenting the past wrong-doings, a brighter future will not be secured.”

Yun also quoted from the testimony of a former Dutch comfort woman, emphasizing that it is not just a problem between South Korea and Japan.

He also demanded that the Japanese government take responsibility and educate current and future generations with regard to the comfort women issue.

Yun said that South Korea and Japan, which share the same values and interests, should be able to cooperate to secure peace and stability in Northeast Asia.

Comfort women may be listed in UNESCO Memory of the World

Seoul, Jan. 15 (CNA) South Korea plans to partner with Taiwan, China and Southeast Asian countries in seeking to obtain United Nations world documentary heritage status for “comfort women,” a Korean official said Wednesday.

“We will file an application with the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to list ‘comfort women’ in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register,” said Kim Un-ji, a section chief with the Korean Ministry of Gender Equality and Family.

In the process, Kim said, South Korea will cooperate with countries that fell victim to Japanese colonization and saw their women turned into sex slaves — euphemistically known as “comfort women” — by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II.

Kim pledged that South Korea would seek Taiwan’s support in the pursuit because the two countries have maintained close cooperation on the issue.

Former Taiwanese comfort women have on many occasions voiced support for their Korean counterparts’ efforts to seek a formal apology from Japan for its previous brutality, Kim said.

The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family is collecting “comfort women”-related data and information from South Korea, Taiwan, China, major Southeast Asian countries and Japan, according to a recent Yonhap News Agency report.

The ministry is scheduled to finalize compilation of all data and documents by the end of this year and will submit it to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism early next year in preparation for filing an application to inscribe “comfort women” in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register, the report said.

The United Nations must decide on the application within one year after receiving it.

If all goes well, “comfort women” could be designated as a UNESCO documentary heritage in 2017, the Yonhap report said.

The Korean government will sponsor a series of seminars and activities to help the world better understand the need to list “comfort women” in the Memory of the World Register, the report added.

(By Jiang Yuan-jen and Sofia Wu, Focus Taiwan Channel)