DAEGU, South Korea: When 17-year-old Lee Yong-soo returned home to South Korea in 1945 after being forced to serve in a brothel for Japanese troops, her family, having given her up for dead, thought she was a ghost.
“When I returned, I had a deep wound,” Lee told Reuters, holding a black and white photo of herself in a traditional Korean dress, taken in her first year back home.
She still remembers the blue and purple fabric of that dress, but other memories from those years are more traumatic.
“I thought I was going to die,” Lee said of the abuse and torture she endured in a brothel at an airfield in Taiwan used by Japanese kamikaze pilots in the final years of World War II.
Now 90 years old, Lee says she feels like a sincere apology from Japanese authorities for the wartime exploitation of so-called “comfort women” is no nearer now than when she returned home more than 70 years ago.
Japan says the claims have been settled by past agreements and apologies, and that the continued controversy threatens relations between the two countries.
Some historians estimate 30,000 to 200,000 Korean women were forced into prostitution during Japan’s occupation from 1910 to 1945, in some cases under the pretext of employment or to pay off a relative’s debt.
The term “comfort women” is a wartime euphemism translated from Japanese for the women, many from Korea, who were forced into prostitution and sexually abused at Japanese military brothels before and during World War II.
A 1996 UN human rights report concluded that the women had been “military sexual slaves”. Japan contests that finding, and a 2015 compensation agreement between Japan and South Korea did not address the issue of whether coercion of the women was a policy of imperial Japan.
Now with only 25 registered South Korean survivors still alive, there is a sense of urgency behind efforts by the women to receive a formal apology as well as legal compensation from Japan while their voices can still be heard.
Just days before Reuters interviewed Lee at her one-room apartment in the southern city of Daegu, a fellow victim had died, one of eight so far in 2018.
Another survivor, Kim Bok-dong, said she wanted to share her story, but suffering from cancer and expected to live only a few more months, she was unable to find time to speak.
Under the 1965 treaty, Japan reached a deal with South Korea to provide an US$800 million aid-and-loan package in exchange for Seoul considering all wartime compensation issues settled.
A South Korean panel late last year concluded the 2015 deal between South Korea and Japan had failed to meet the needs of former “comfort women”.
Acting on that conclusion, the South Korean government this week shut down a fund created under the 2015 deal and vowed to pursue a more “victim-oriented” approach, a move Japan said threatened the two countries’ relations.
A sense of shame and secrecy meant most tales of abuse and coercion at the brothels for Japanese troops were never discussed publicly, until Kim Hak-sun, one of the South Korean victims, came forward in 1991.
She and two other former comfort women joined a class action lawsuit against Japan, which prompted the Japanese government to acknowledge its role for the first time in 1993. The case was eventually dismissed by Japan’s highest courts in 2004.
Lee was one of the survivors emboldened by Kim’s move, and has since worked to raise awareness, including meeting the Pope and travelling to North Korea to meet other victims.
“Since 1992, I had been asking Japan to make sincere apology, that is what I want,” Lee said. “I have been doing this for 27 years, it doesn’t matter whether it was raining or snowing, or the weather was cold or hot.”
From 1995 to 2007, Japan created a fund from donations to make payments to women throughout Asia, budgeted money for their welfare support and sent letters of apology from successive premiers.
While a number of survivors have accepted compensation over the years, many South Koreans see the issue as unresolved because of what they consider a lack of sincerity from the Japanese government.
Despite apologies from Japan, for example, the first comfort women fund was criticised in South Korea for not being direct compensation from the state, and the 2015 deal was faulted for failing to include a clear statement of the Japanese government’s legal responsibility.
Japan says South Korea had waived all claims in the 1965 pact, and that under the 2015 deal, Japan agreed to provide the funds to help the women heal “psychological wounds”.
Critics of South Korea have also accused it of ignoring the complicity of some Koreans in the sex trade at the time.
Shutting the Japan-funded foundation is one of the most significant steps President Moon Jae-in’s administration has taken as it revisits the comfort women controversy.
In the past year, South Korea has also opened a new research centre aimed at consolidating academic study of comfort women, named the first Comfort Women Day and unveiled a new memorial in Cheonan, a city south of Seoul.
“We cannot ignore the truth just because it hurts,” Moon said this week. “For the sake of sustainable and solid Korea-Japan relations, we must face up to the truth.”
Lee said she thinks Moon is “trying his best,” and in a statement released from her hospital bed this week, Kim said the move to close the foundation restored her trust in the South Korean president.
Moon’s efforts, however, have faced pushback from Japanese officials, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Earlier this year, Japan formally complained after South Korea’s foreign minister raised the issue in a speech at the United Nations.
Japanese officials have expressed frustration at what they see as the South Korean government’s changing positions and efforts to revisit settled agreements.
For survivors like Lee, Japan’s protests ring hollow.
Lee said she was 16 when she was forcibly taken to Taiwan by a Japanese man in a “sort of military uniform”. When she first balked at entering the brothel, she said she was beaten and tortured with electric shocks. She was released in 1945, after about two years as a captive.
“The survivors of the heinous crimes the Japanese committed are dying day by day, and I bet Abe is dancing for joy,” Lee said, becoming animated as she described her frustration. “They should apologise, tell the truth, and pay the legal compensation.”
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.”
Thank you very much for agreeing to the interview with Justiceforcomfortwomen.
We have the following questions. In addition to these questions, if you have anything else you would like to say, please kindly let us know.
1. What do the surviving comfort women in the House of Sharing think of the ‘Foundation for Reconciliation and Healing’ by Korea & Japan’s governments?
Japanese Army ‘Sex Slavery’ was a war crime committed by Japan, and the worst abuse of women’s rights in the history of mankind. Japan used women as a tool of war. This was a crime against humanity. To regain the honor of these women and reinstate human rights, the victims have held a Wednesday Demonstration every week in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul since February 1, 1992. The women have demanded that the Japanese government to make an official apology and legal reparations by visiting major cities around the world, e.g. the US, Canada, Japan, Germany and France, to give testimony.
The term Japanese Army ‘comfort women’ was coined by the perpetrator Japan. The victims argue that Japanese Army ‘Sex Slavery’ should be used instead. The perpetrator-oriented term should not be used. It’s high time to use the term that correctly expresses the essence of this issue, i.e. victims of Japanese Army ‘Sex Slavery’.
As the agreement between South Korea and Japan, signed on December 28, 2015, was reached without giving any explanation to the victims and obtaining their consent, it lacks legal validity in terms of its procedure. Furthermore, the perpetrator-centric coercive undemocratic procedure infringed on the fundamental rights of the victims. So this agreement, not including an official apology and legal reparations, must be abolished.
The agreement did not state an official apology. It excluded the Japanese Army’s role as the main culprit, and instead used ambiguous words like the involvement of the military without admitting responsibility. To ensure veracity, the prime minister representing Japan must apologize in person. The foreign minister’s apology is not an official apology.
The victims did not consent to the agreement, yet it was presented as a final and irreversible resolution. Over the years, the Abe government has denied the Kono Statement of 1993, which indirectly apologized to the victims under the Murayama government. The Abe government has attempted to distort and modify history.
After the announcement of the agreement, politicians denied coercion, and thoughtlessly called the victims prostitutes. There is nothing we can do when such absurd remarks are made about the victims in Japan. The expression ‘final and irreversible’ pales into insignificance beside these remarks, and it are nothing more than a one-way declaration for the benefit of the perpetrator. It is a pathetic agreement that cannot be fulfilled. Furthermore, we cannot understand why research and education, which were included in the Kono Statement, are missing. This would seem to indicate the intention of Japan to hide the facts of the case forever.
So, the victims are opposed to the agreement, and for that matter, they are also against the establishment of the Foundation for Reconciliation and Healing. Nevertheless, the government has pushed ahead with it, and launched the foundation. The victims did not entrust their individual rights to the claim and the right of representation to the foundation; yet, the foundation received the money that Japan gives to the victims. This was illegal.
It is not a matter of money being given to the victims. No matter which government is in power in Japan, the victims want Japan to take legal responsibility, i.e. not denying or modifying this issue. The victims are seeking legal reparation. The Japanese government’s contributions have come from the government’s reserve funds in the government budgets, i.e. money for international relief.
2. Recently many victims have passed away, and as they are all elderly women, time is limited. What kind of help can you give them?
Japan argues that Korea’s claim to Japan for war damages in 1965 put an end to the issue, and thus the claim expired, and the statute of limitations has expired.
When the Treaty on Basic Relations between the Republic of Korea and Japan was signed in 1965, however, Korea’s claim to Japan for war damages concerned the property rights under colonial rule. It was not therefore a claim against the war crimes committed on the battlefield by Japanese soldiers. The state cannot exercise individuals’ rights of claim on their behalf, and the issue of Japanese Army ‘comfort women’ was known to the international community in the early 1990’s,. Japanese civic groups and conscientious scholars have stated the same. The argument that individuals’ claims were included in Korea’s claim to Japan for war damages in 1965, and thus they are all resolved is an empty Japanese claim and nothing better than sophistry. War crimes do not have a statute of limitations. Do you think the victims will want a humanitarian resolution for these crimes t? Naturally they demand a legal resolution.
We must let the citizens of the world know Japan’s alteration of the true history.
3. Movies were made based on the victims’ stories(e.g. ‘Spirits’ Homecoming,’), and they are introduced in various ways, such as TV dramas, plays and dance, but unfortunately they seem to be concentrated in a certain period around the National Liberation Day. Do you want anything from the media or related organizations?
In 1993 under the Murayama government of Japan, the Kono Statement acknowledged the issue of Japanese Army ‘Sex Slavery,’ and in 1995 Japan established the Asian Women’s Fund to ‘give consolatory payments to Japanese Army ‘Sex Slavery’ victims. In 2007, the US House of Representatives adopted Resolution HR121 to urge Japan to apologize, and various UN organizations tried to record history and educate people so as not to forget the history. This agreement lacks history education, and used the term ‘final and irreversible.’ This was a malicious attempt to erase history forever.
1. Recording in textbooks and education
2. Many researches and distribution of materials
3. Forming a consensus through movies and documentaries
4. There is a saying ‘A history forgotten is a history repeated.’ The Japanese government is continuously trying to erase the history of the victims. Japanese right-wingers send anti-Korean mails to my blog. How do you think we can bridge this gap in history, and concentrate on the real issue of human rights?
Human rights and history issues are important to all states and nations. To resolve this issue, we must demand with one voice that the Japanese government should make legal reparations and an official apology. In particular, individuals must join in with efforts to resolve these issues with a clear understanding of human rights and history. To try and resolve this issue, the civilian sector must work tirelessly to erect the Statue of Peace. This is the best thing we can do to resolve the issue. Korea and Japan must make a joint textbook and resolve this human rights issue together.
Again, thank you so much for sharing your time and thoughts with us. We wish the very best of everything for surviving comfort women at the House of Sharing, and we will keep supporting them in anyways.
12 Japanese Army ‘Sex Slavery’ victims 12 sued the Korean government for compensation worth KRW100 million each. They say that they would not accept a single penny from the Japanese government if it is not legal reparations.
The Korean government must provide compensation for the damages they inflicted on Japanese Army ‘comfort women’ as it did not carry out the decision of the Constitutional Court in 2011. 12 Japanese Army ‘Sex Slavery’ victims, including 6 in the House of Sharing, filed a compensation suit in the court of the Republic of Korea against the Korean government on August 30 (Tuesday) 1:00pm. They claimed KRW100 million in damages per person.
What Japanese Army ‘Sex Slavery’ victims demanded was the Japanese government’s ‘legal responsibility,’ i.e. that Japan should clearly acknowledge their crimes, make an official apology and legal reparations, continuously work to acknowledge the truth, remember the victims, provide history education and punish criminals. The victims refused the ‘Asian Women’s Fund,’ which Japan established in 1995 to give KRW50 million per person, even though they were badly off and needed money. They refused this fund because it expressly denied ‘Japan’s legal responsibility.’
The Japanese government and court argued that the Korea’s claim to Japan for war damages in 1965 resolved all issues. As the Korean government did not make an authoritative interpretation of the victims’ rights of claim, 109 victims urged the Korean government on June 5, 2007 to resolve the issue of Japanese Army Sex Slavery’ according to the dispute resolution procedure set forth in the Settlement Agreement between South Korea and Japan of 1965, and filed a constitutional appeal.
On August 30, 2011, the Constitutional Court said, “There is a Constitutional demand to help Korean nationals, whose human dignity and value were seriously harmed by the organized and continuous illegal acts perpetrated by Japan, to exercise their right to demand compensation, and protect them.” It ruled that the Korean government’s failure to follow the dispute resolution procedure set forth in Article 3 of theTreaty on Basic Relations between the Republic of Korea and Japan of 1965 to hold the Japanese government liable for damages infringes on the victims’ fundamental rights of the Constitution.
According to the decision of the Constitutional Court, the victims requested that the Korean government resolve the issue of Japanese Army ‘comfort women’ in accordance with the procedure set forth in Article 3 of the Settlement Agreement between South Korea and Japan, including the arbitration procedure. On December 28, 2015, however, the Korean government agreed to ‘a final and irreversible resolution,’ ‘refraining from reproaching and criticizing Japan in the international community,’ and ‘efforts to address Japanese government’s concerns about the Statue of Peace.’ Nevertheless, the Japanese government refused to acknowledge its ‘legal responsibility’. The victims believed that the Korean government signed an agreement in violation of the decision of the Constitutional Court, and caused additional mental and physical damage to them, and filed a lawsuit against the Korean government.
On August 30 (Sunday), 6 Japanese Army‘Sex Slavery’ victims in the House of Sharing refused to receive KRW100 million in consolation money that the Japanese government said it would pay in accordance with the agreement between Korea and Japan. 10 of the 40 surviving comfort women are living together in the House of Sharing. Their ages range between 87 and 101, and their average age exceeds 90. They suffer from geriatric diseases, and the trauma of having been gang raped at an early age. To resolve this issue, they visited Tokyo and Osaka, Japan in January 2017, New York and Dallas, US in April, and are set to visit Okinawa and Fukuoka, Japan in October to provide testimony.
The Japanese government remitted￥1 billion, i.e. about KRW10.87 billion to the foundation for supporting comfort women, i.e. the ‘’Foundation for Reconciliation and Healing.’ It has been 25 years since the comfort women issue was first publicized in 1991 by the testimony of the late Kim Hak-soon. However, a humanitarian support fund, not legal reparations, will not help resolve this issue at all. It is not until the victims receive a single penny in legal reparations that the Japanese government acknowledges legal responsibility and no Japanese government will make reckless remarks like prostitution.
The Abe government has sought to nullify the Kono Statement of 1993 which admitted this issue. The actions of the Abe government have met with strong resistance from historians around the world. As this distortion and alteration of history continue, Japan must make legal reparations. Japan’s unilateral remittance is nothing but a trick to erase history. That’s why the 6 victims in the House of Sharing refuse to receive KRW100 million in cash.
When it comes to human rights, particularly the issue of history, the ruling and opposition parties cannot be different. Past governments tried many things to resolve this issue, but as Japan did not make legal reparations and an official apology that the victims want, they could not reach an agreement. The National Assembly must now demand with one voice that the agreement should be nullified and renegotiated. In particular, the National Assembly members must work together with an awareness of human rights and history. The private sector cannot but continuously erect the Statute of Peace at home and abroad to resolve this issue. In summary, then, the Statute of Peace is the best thing we can do to resolve this issue.
Kim Yeon-hee, one of the Korean women forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II, passed away Wednesday night. She was 83.
Her death follows that of two other “comfort women,” as they are euphemistically known, who passed away two weeks ago.
According to the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, a civic organization supporting the victims, Kim died at about 10 p.m. at a hospital in Yongin, Gyeonggi.
She died of natural causes, the group said.
Kim was born in 1932 in Daegu, according to the organization, and moved to Seoul at age 5.
In 1944, just a year before Japanese colonial rule ended, Kim was forcibly brought to Japan by her elementary school’s principal, a Japanese national. She was in fifth grade at the time.
Kim was forced to work in a military brothel in Aomori Prefecture in northern Japan for about seven months after working at a factory in the central Toyama Prefecture for about nine months.
After the peninsula was liberated in 1945, she returned to Korea where she received treatment at a mental facility due to the trauma she experienced in the brothel. She worked as a housekeeper and never married.
Kim is the third former comfort woman to die this month alone, which brings the total number of surviving Korean victims to 49. A total of 238 former sex slaves were officially registered with the government.
Kim Oi-hwan, the youngest of the survivors, and Kim Dal-seon passed away on June 11, dying within half an hour of each other.
The comfort women issue has long been a source of historical dispute between Korea and Japan, adding to tensions and straining relations. The Japanese government has yet to issue a formal apology to its victims.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Korea and Japan, so it is hoped that new developments may bring the issue closer to a resolution.
Earlier this month, President Park Geun-hye told the Washington Post that “considerable progress” had been made between Seoul and Tokyo in negotiations regarding an apology by Japan and reparations to the victims.
On Monday, President Park met Fukushiro Nukaga, who visited Korea as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s special envoy, at the Blue House, where he pledged to facilitate progress in ongoing negotiations for the issue.
Korean pop stars are donating money to the ‘House of sharing’.
In July, the most popular comedian, Jae-suk Yoo donated money to the ‘House of Sharing’.
In August, the popular Korean TV show, ‘Infinity Challenge’ also donated $25,000 to the place. Today, Dong-wan Kim,the popular singer from the band,’Shin-hwa’, also donated money to help out the surviving comfort women at the ‘House of Sharing’.
U.S. Officials Meet Former Sex Slaves Two women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army in World War II recently visited the White House and State Department to testify about their ordeal.
Lee Ock-seon (87) and Kang Il-chul (86) are among a handful of survivors of the atrocity. It was the first time officials of the White House and the State Department met the victims.
The two women arrived in the U.S. to coincide with the first anniversary of monuments in their honor in Glendale, California and New Jersey.
On July 30, they spoke at the White House with Paulette Aniskoff, the director of the Office of Public Engagement, for about two-and-a-half hours. The two women asked for the U.S. government’s help in their quest for justice before all the elderly victims are dead.
Kim Dong-suk of Korean American Civic Empowerment, quoted an unidentified White House official as promising to pay attention to the issue.
Aniskoff on Monday tweeted a photo with the two women saying, “Met with two brave Korean ‘comfort women’, Ok-seon Lee and Il-chul Kang, last week; their stories are heartbreaking…”
On July 31, the two met with officials of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the State Department. Their visits had been arranged by Rep. Mike Honda, who played a leading role in the U.S. House of Representatives passing a resolution on the victims in 2007.