Launched in 2009, the DMZ Docs has developed into the country’s largest festival of documentary films themed on “peace,” “communication” and “life.” The festival has the unique concept of combining the documentary genre with the demilitarized zone, the world’s last remaining symbol of the Cold War.
The Special Focus of this year has the opportunity to reflect on the issue of the ‘Comfort women for Japanese soldiers’ through the documentary, which has become the big social issue due to the Korean Comfort Women agreement at the end of the year 2015. It presents the documentary films by Japanese Filmmakers, devoted to the Comfort Women such as Karayuki-San, the Making of a Prostitute by Imamura Shôhei, Okinawa no Harumoni by Yamatani Tetsuo and Living with the “Memories” by Doi Toshikuni. And also present two documentaries that depict the testimonies of Taiwanese Comfort Women and their current life of healing the trauma, and The Silence that was made by Park Su-nam, a second-generation Korean Japanese director in China. Trough all these films, we could not only pay attention to the voice of the Comfort Women as victims in the countries of Asia, but also confirm that the women’s experiences of war and violence are limited to the problem of the individual countries but are connected with each other crossing the borders of the countries in Asia. Along with screening them, the Special Focus will hold a forum to examine the collective memory and representation of the Korean Comfort women for Japanese soldiers and the past and present of the representation of Comfort women in Asia. In addition Peasant revolutionary dynamics, Pepper and Rifle, a documentary that reveals that Japan suppressed Peasant revolutionary army in the process of colonization of Joseon, was received the special production support of the DMZ Doc Fund and will also be screened in the Special Focus.
While the Japanese government under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe puts pressure on the South Korean government under President Park Geun-hye to remove or relocate the comfort women statue from in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul in connection with the agreement the two countries reached about the comfort women on Dec. 28, 2015, even more comfort women statues are appearing both inside and outside of South Korea.
This month alone – which includes the International Memorial Day for the Comfort Women on Aug. 14 and Liberation Day on Aug. 15 – new comfort women statues will be unveiled in 10 more locations. There are 20 other locations that are taking steps toward installing a comfort women statue, though the unveiling has yet to be scheduled.
“Starting with Sydney, Australia, on Aug. 6, unveiling ceremonies for the Monument to Peace will be held in 10 locations both in Korea and in other countries just this month,” said Ryu Ji-hyeong, an activist, on Aug. 2. Ryu is in charge of matters related to the comfort women statue – officially known as the “Monument to Peace” – for the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan (Jeongdaehyeop).
“All 10 of these locations are working with Kim Un-seong and Kim Seo-gyeong, the husband-and-wife team of sculptors who cast the Monument to Peace that is in front of the Japanese Embassy to South Korea. If other areas that are working with other artists are included, you might have an even bigger number,” Ryu added.
The first unveiling ceremony this month is being organized by the Statue Establishing Committee in Sydney, which is supported by the Korean community there. The unveiling ceremony will take place at the Sydney Korean Community Center on Aug. 6, with former comfort woman Gil Won-ok, Jeongdaehyeop co-representative Yoon Mee-hyang and Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung in attendance.
The statue will be kept at the Korean community center for one year before being permanently installed at the Ashfield Uniting Church (led by Pastor Bill Crews), which is located in Sydney.
This is the twelfth memorial to the comfort women overseas (including both the comfort women statues and commemorative stones), joining one in Japan, nine in the US and one in Canada.
“These Korean anti-Japan activities are being utilized as a part of the Chinese Communist Party’s information operation attempting to cut the ties of the alliance between Japan, the US and Australia” and involve political operatives “connected with North Korea,” a Japanese group was quoted as claiming in an Aug. 1 report by Australia broadcaster ABC.
In South Korea a series of comfort women statue unveiling ceremonies are scheduled for this month. The first will be held at Dangjeong Park in Gunpo, Gyeonggi Province, on Aug. 9, followed by ceremonies at the South Jeolla Province Office, Gimpo and Osan on Aug. 14; at Nonsan, Guro Station, Sangroksu Station and Heukseok Station on Aug. 15; and at Siheung on Aug. 20.
While local governments and local legislatures – including South Jeolla Province, the South Jeolla Province legislature and the city of Gunpo – have been involved in some of the comfort women statue construction projects, the majority of them have been funded by donations from the local community.
The first comfort women statue is the “Young Woman Statue for Peace” that was installed on Peace Street in front of the Japanese Embassy to South Korea. This statue was set up to commemorate the 1,000th weekly Wednesday comfort women demonstration on Dec. 14, 2011, with the goal of remembering the former comfort women and establishing a proper understanding of history.
To date, comfort women statues and memorial stones have been set up in a total of 51 places around the world, 40 of which are in South Korea and 11 of which are in other countries.
The first monument for the comfort women to be built inside South Korea was the “Pagoda of Peace,” which was erected in Chwigan Woods (located in Pyeongsari Park, Hadong County, South Gyeongsang Province) on May 26, 2007, by the Committee to Commemorate Former Comfort Woman Jeong Seo-un. The first monument outside of South Korea was a memorial stone set up in Miyako-jima, an island that is part of Japan‘s prefecture of Okinawa, on Sep. 7, 2008, by Korean and Japanese civic groups.
Comfort women statues were only built intermittently at first, with one in 2007, one in 2008, and one in 2010. But since the comfort women statue went up in front of the Japanese Embassy in 2011, the statues have been increasing exponentially. There were three in 2012, five in 2013, 11 in 2014 and 23 in 2015.
So far this year, additional comfort women statues have been erected at five locations, including Busan’s Choeup neighborhood. Including the 10 sites where statues will be unveiled this month and the 20 or so places that are still finalizing their plans, the number of statues this year is expected to be nearly double last year’s figure.
“There were a lot of Monument to Peace construction projects last year since it was the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japan,” Ryu said. “This year, we were expecting the construction trend to slow, but we’re actually seeing an increase since the Dec. 28 agreement between the South Korean and Japanese governments.”
“The Monument to Peace is not simply a reminder of Japan’s war crimes. It also expresses a firm commitment to the idea that there must not be any wars or war crimes in the future, either. Since the Dec. 28 agreement, it appears that more people think that it‘s important to make an effort not to forget these issues,” she said.
Jeongdaehyeop announced that it has declared Aug. 1 to Aug. 16 to be the “4th Week of the International Memorial Day for the Comfort Women.” The group is planning to hold solidarity events to call for the Dec. 28 agreement to be scrapped and that a just solution to the comfort women issue be found. These events, which include the World Solidarity Assembly on Aug. 10 and the Butterfly Culture Festival on Aug. 14, will take place in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.
International Memorial Day for the Comfort Women was selected and announced during the 11th Asia Solidarity Assembly for Resolving the Comfort Women Issue which took place in Taiwan in Nov. 2012.
The day was chosen with the hope of moving toward an appropriate solution to the comfort women issue in accordance with the wishes of Kim Hak-sun (Oct. 20, 1924-Dec. 16, 1997). On Aug. 14, 1991, Kim became the first former comfort women to testify in South Korea about the suffering that she and others like her had endured.
By Han-Kye-Re Daily News, Lee Je-hun staff reporter
The streets of Munich, Germany, were filled with the voices of people declaring that imperial Japan’s comfort women system was a war crime and a crime against humanity and that the comfort women issue could not be resolved until the Japanese government offered a sincere apology.
There is ongoing criticism of the behavior of the South Korean and Japanese governments, which are attempting to use an ambiguous grant of 1 billion yen (US$9.9 million) to close the book on the comfort women issue as if it had been “finally and irreversibly” resolved.
On Aug. 15, the European Network for Progressive Korea, a reform-minded group of ethnic Koreans living in Europe, posted pictures and a message on Facebook to share the news that they had joined with artists and human rights activists from around the world to call for a real resolution to the comfort women issue in Munich, Germany, on Aug. 13.
The group held placards that said, “[A] Crime Against Humanity is Everyone’s Business” on the streets of Munich as they urged locals to pay attention to the comfort women issue. The event coincided with [a similar event held in Seoul called] Global Action on the 4th Day of Remembrance for Comfort Women around the World.
“The surviving comfort women, who were the victims of daily rape and violence during World War II, are still waiting for an official apology from the Japanese government, and most of them don’t understand why this issue isn’t being widely discussed inside Japan,” said Bjorn Jensen, a German film director who attended the event.
“Even if the current Japanese government is not directly responsible for something that happened 70 years ago, it is responsible for taking appropriate measures for the former comfort women and for future generations so that the history of the comfort women is not forgotten,” he said.
In June, Jensen released a documentary titled “Forgotten Sex Slaves: Comfort Women in the Philippines” at the Seoul International Women’s Film Festival.
“Remembering the crimes that humans have committed in the past is very important for commemorating the victims and for preventing those crimes from happening again. The Japanese government needs to clearly apologize for its comfort women crimes and to provide legal compensation to the surviving comfort women,” said Corina, a Chilean women’s rights activist and painter.
“I’m reminded of Brazil’s unfortunate past. During the military dictatorship between the 1960s and 1980s, many women were tortured and sexually assaulted in prison,” said Christopher, a human rights activist from Brazil. “Violence against women in a patriarchal society is an issue that the whole world should be interested in.”
“I truly respect the former comfort women for fighting for 25 long years not only to restore their own reputations but also to create a society in which human dignity is respected. I hope the day will soon come when the former comfort women can see for themselves justice being done,” the European Network for Progressive Korea quoted one person in Munich as saying.
“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
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, email@example.com
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.
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