South Korean ‘comfort women’ continue to fight sex slavery accord with Japan
‘We are not fighting because we need money, but for Japan’s apology’
One year after the deal between Korea and Japan over sex slavery crimes committed by the Japanese military during the second world war, surviving victims in Korea are still fighting to nullify the accord and get what they call a real apology.
At the weekly protest condemning Japan’s wrongdoings on Wednesday across from the Japanese Embassy and in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building in Seoul, former comfort woman Kim Bok-dong, 91, said the accord has no value.
“We will not accept anything until the Japanese government first apologises sincerely,” Kim said. “It’s nonsense what President Park Geun-hye has done for this problem.”
In a verbal agreement on December 28, 2015, the two governments agreed the sexual slavery issue would be resolved for good. It was agreed the Japanese government would offer 1 billion yen (9.6 million won, or US$7,953) to the Korean government, and Seoul would stop raising the issue internationally.
In July, the Korean government founded the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation to distribute the money to survivors and has been persuading them to accept the money. At that time of the agreement, 46 victims remained alive, with 34 saying they would receive the money, 100 million won (US$83,082) each.
“They needed money for their families or to cover their medical expenses,” an activist supporting the victims said.
Over the year, seven of the 46 died. Of the surviving 39, 11 are refusing the money and Kim is one of them. “We don’t need that money,”Kim said. “We are not fighting because we need money, but for Japan’s apology. President Park Geun-hye and Foreign Affairs Minister Yun Byung-se should resign for making the poor deal.”
Choo Mi-ae, the chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) who joined the protest, echoed the victims’ sentiments. “Both the Park Geun-hye government and the accord should vanish.”
Choo also criticized the government for its attempt to brainwash young citizens. “In the new state-authored history books, there’s no mention of sexual slavery. It is taken out. The government wants citizens to delete that painful part of the country’s history from their memories. This is total nonsense.”
Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon vowed to help submit records of the sexual slavery to Unesco’s Memory of the World Register. “We have a budget allocated for this in 2017. History is there to be remembered. And your taxes should be spent on this.”
Ahn Shin-gwon, director of the House of Sharing, a shelter for the victims, said, “If a new administration is voted in, it should annul the agreement. It should make a new deal by listening to the victims’ opinions and through an open process such as public hearings.”
Wednesday’s protest, the last one this year, remembered seven victims who passed away in 2016. Participants offered flowers to the portraits of the victims and marched to the ministry building in condemnation of the government.
Almost 200,000 women are estimated to have been drafted as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during the war. They were mostly from Korea, along with China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Netherlands. The Japanese government has repeatedly refused to recognise it was a crime for which the current Japanese government should repent.