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Legacy of war in Asia

South Korea plans ‘comfort women’ museum as old war wounds with Japan struggle to heal

The issue of former Korean sex slaves, euphemistically known as ‘comfort women’, has been the biggest source of friction in ties between Seoul and Tokyo

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 July, 2017, 3:14pm
UPDATED : Monday, 10 July, 2017, 11:17pm

South Korea’s new gender equality and family minister said Monday a plan has been formed to establish a museum in Seoul to commemorate former Korean women forced into Japanese wartime brothels.

Chung Hyun-back, on a visit to a group home for affected women known as the “House of Sharing”, was quoted by Yonhap as saying the envisaged museum would remind people of the “human rights violations caused by war”.

Speaking to reporters during the visit to the facility in Gwangju, on the outskirts of the South Korean capital, Chung said the so-called “comfort women” issue is “no longer an issue between South Korea and Japan but an international one”.

Chung, a professor of history and a women’s rights activist who took office last Friday, said she hopes that work to construct the museum will begin as soon as a site for the facility is secured.

She also expressed support for efforts to find funding to have comfort women-related documents listed in Unesco’s Memory of the World project.

“While Japan’s apology is significant, it is important to remember (the women’s suffering),” Chung said.

The ministry ceased to be involved in the initiative pushing for the documents to be listed by Unesco after a 2015 deal struck between Japan and South Korea to settle the comfort women issue “finally and irreversibly.”

Since then, civic groups mainly drove efforts for the Unesco registration.

In her inauguration speech last Friday, Chung said a foundation set up by the South Korean government to use Japanese funding to support the ageing former comfort women will be subject to a complete review.

She was referring to the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation, launched in July under the 2015 agreement. The foundation is to pay about 10 million yen to each surviving woman, and Japan disbursed 1 billion yen (US$8.76 million) for this purpose last year.

But the deal was criticised by some in South Korea for failing to reflect the voices of the affected women.

South Korea’s new president Moon Jae-in last month said Japan must “take legal responsibility for its actions” and “make an official apology” in order to resolve controversy over the deal.