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Legacy of war in Asia

UN panel calls on Japan and South Korea to revise ‘comfort women’ deal

Although not legally binding, the recommendation could prompt the administration of new South Korean President Moon Jae-in to demand renegotiations on the deal

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 May, 2017, 4:16pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 May, 2017, 10:01pm

The UN Committee against Torture called on Japan and South Korea to revise their 2015 deal to settle the long-standing row over women who were forced into wartime Japanese military brothels.

The agreement should be modified to “ensure that the surviving victims of sexual slavery during World War II are provided with redress, including the right to compensation and rehabilitation and the right to truth, reparation and assurances of non-repetitions”, the committee said in a report.

Although not legally binding, the recommendation could prompt the administration of new South Korean President Moon Jae-in to demand renegotiations on the deal with Japan.

Why Korea’s ‘comfort women’ must be remembered

But Japan has no obligation to comply with the recommendation, making it difficult for any such renegotiations to take place.

Japan and South Korea struck a landmark deal in December 2015 to “finally and irreversibly” resolve a protracted dispute over the issue of so-called comfort women.

Tokyo disbursed 1 billion yen (US$8.9 million) last year to a South Korean fund to help former comfort women and their families in line with the terms of the deal.

However, Tokyo did not clarify whether the fund was for reparations or humanitarian assistance for the surviving victims. Some victims and civic groups have opposed the deal, claiming the Japanese government did not acknowledge its legal responsibility in forcing Korean women into sex slavery for the Japanese military.

The agreement also came under fire for being signed behind closed doors, and excluding victims’ voices in the process.

To further complicate matters, the Korean government has already allocated funds to victims, after receiving the fund from Japan last September. Among 38 surviving victims, 34 have received 100 million won.

The Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, a civic group representing the victims, is calling for the government to return the fund and annul the deal.

In the race for presidency, Moon pledged to either nullify the deal or seek renegotiation. Japan, however, stressed that the agreement was irreversible.

Japan urges South Korea’s Moon to stick to comfort women deal

In his phone talks with Moon on Thursday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attached importance to implementing the accord. But Moon replied it is “a reality that most of the South Korean people are emotionally unable to accept [the deal]”.

The Committee against Torture was established in 1988 in line with the 1984 UN Convention against Torture, which bans police and government organisations of states that are party to the convention from acts or torture and other inhuman treatment. Japan became party to the pact in 1999.

The committee evaluates member countries’ compliance on a regular basis and issues recommendations if problems are found.

In May 2013, the UN human rights panel urged the Japanese government to “refute attempts to deny the facts by the government authorities and public figures and to re-traumatise the victims through such denials”.

The document was issued after then Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto said that comfort women were necessary to maintain discipline in the Japanese military, sparking anger including in South Korea.

But the government refused to comply with the recommendation, issuing a written statement saying the recommendation “does not oblige member countries to comply” and having the statement approved at a Cabinet meeting the following month.

Reconciliation cannot wait for the ‘comfort women’ victims of wartime Japan

In a radio interview on Thursday, the women council’s president Yoon Mi-hyang said the government should return the 10 billion yen by making up the already allocated amount with government funds.

“The 2015 agreement was a diplomatic disaster of the Park Geun-hye administration, which imposed the removal of comfort woman statues and an irreversible resolution of the issue without providing a proper official apology or reparations,” the group said in a statement.

“The agreement must be annulled, and new negotiations must take place.”

Additional reporting by Korea Times