After the two days of the 100th anniversary of Samiljeol, Kwak Ye-bun, another victim of Japanese military sexual slavery passed away. She passed away as 94-year-old before having a proper apology from Japan. It has been 33 days since Kim Bok-dong, a human rights activist who took the lead in promoting the atrocities committed by former Japanese soldiers, passed away.
‘Comfort women’ refers to the victims who were forced to work in Japanese brothels during World War II, until the Pacific War ended in 1945. Meanwhile, the term ‘comfort women’ hides the forcibleness and violence of assailants. Since the word ‘comfort’ reminds of voluntary prostitution, ‘military sex slavery’ is generally used in the international community including the United Nations. However, the Republic of Korea uses ‘comfort women’ to prevent survivors from getting mental injuries by referring to them as sex slaves.
Japanese government keeps arguing that the issue has been finally and inextricably resolved through the Dec. 28 agreement, so-called 2015 agreement. Korean and Japanese government signed to this agreement which includes a plan to establish a fund named ‘The Reconciliation and Healing Foundation’ for the victims, using 1 billion yen ($8.8 million) provided by Japan under the name of humanitarian aid. However, the majority of the surviving victims have rejected the agreement from the start, saying that it did not reflect their stance on the matter. In addition, the agreement was criticized by the Korean public for the lack of liability and sincere apology. As a result, Moon Jae-in administration made the decision to shut down the foundation and is in the process of dissolving. Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, expressed his displeasure with South Korea's decision to dissolve a foundation stating "If an international promise is not kept, state-to-state relations are not forged."
Recently, a diplomatic clash between South Korea and Japan occurred again within the wartime sex slave issue. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan raised a counterargument to U.S. daily newspaper The New York Times, for reporting Kim Bok-dong’s death, with the title “Kim Bok-dong, Wartime Sex Slave Who Sought Reparations for Koreans, Dies at 92.”
At the letter, a Foreign Affairs Ministry official describes Tokyo’s atonement and healing efforts asserting that “Japan has expressed its sincere apologies and although all issues of property and claims between Japan and South Korea were legally settled, Japan has made an effort to heal the psychological wounds of all former comfort women.” It also said the Asian Women’s Fund, established in 1995 by Japan, made a contribution of about $46 million in total and handed atonement money to former military sex slaves including those in South Korea.
In fact, Japan has delivered apologies several times in the past. Yohei Kono the Chief Cabinet Secretary at the time, admitted in August 1993 that the Japanese military had installed, managed and transferred brothels directly or indirectly regardless of women's personal intentions. In 1995, Japanese Prime Minister Murayama said, "The colonial rule and invasion caused a lot of damage and suffering." In addition, Prime Minister Naoto Kan expressed his apology, saying, "Koreans were deprived of their country and culture by colonial rule, which was made against their will, and were deeply hurt the national pride."
However, Japan insists all legal issues that arose within the former Japanese empire has ended in the 1965 treaty between Korea and Japan. Thus, sexual enslavement occurred during the colonial period only can be compensated or apologized within 'humanitarian grounds.' Since Japan is denying legal responsibility for sex trafficking, controversy persists.
The Solidarity for Justice and 'Hope of Kim Bok-dong' immediately issued a statement refuting Japan's counterargument. It claimed, “Japan has not even admitted its legal responsibility and is revealing its own contradictory perception that compensation has settled under the 1965 treaty.” It also said that the Japanese government should admit the fact of an offense, and make an official apology and legal compensation.
Additionally, Seo Young-hoon, the social director and deputy director of Kyungnam newspaper, said in the editorial article that “If Japan sincerely regret of its wrongdoings of sexual enslavement, the government should apologize continuously and take an action to prove its sincerity whenever it has a chance. He pointed out the fact that cabinet members including prime minister are officially visiting Yaskuni Shrine, repeating that Japan has already apologized about the issue in the past and maintains Kono statement. Meanwhile, the shrine honors Japanese war dead including 14 Class-A war criminals from World War II.
On the other hand, Germany shows a different move. Merkel, the prime minister of Germany, visited the Compiègne Forest located northern France where the German Armistice Agreement was signed during WWI, in a gesture of honor and apology for the victims. Germany also has a history of massacring about six million Jews in the name of ethnic cleansing during WWII. Merkel visited a Nazi concentration camp in 2015. She has stressed Germany's permanent responsibility, apologizing for past war crimes whenever she has a chance. Furthermore, Germany regulates Holocaust denial as 'anti-Nazi' and strongly punishes the act of distorting or denying historical facts
The victims of sexual violence in wartime are registered in government as a total of 240. Of these, 218 people died and only 22 remaining survivors are left. Their average age is 91 years old. Since they don’t have much time, a sincere apology from Japan is urgently needed. The important thing is that ‘sincere apology’ does not mean the simple monetary compensation from humanitarian support which had done before.
“The reason we have been fighting all these years is not for money,” Kim Bok-dong told a radio interviewer in 2016. “What we want is a sincere apology and legal reparations from Japan that would help restore our honor.”
이유정 기자 firstname.lastname@example.org