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Legacy of war in Asia

Japan slams South Korea for mentioning ‘sex slaves’ at UN meeting

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 February, 2018, 10:38pm
UPDATED : Friday, 23 February, 2018, 10:38pm

Japan criticised South Korea on Friday over a South Korean minister’s use of the term “sex slaves” at a UN committee meeting in Geneva to describe the women who were forced into Japan’s wartime military brothels.

“Japan is of the view that the expression ‘sex slaves’ contradicts the facts and should not be used,” the Japanese Foreign Ministry said in a press statement.

Foreign Minister Taro Kono told reporters after a cabinet meeting that the use of the expression at the UN meeting Thursday was “unacceptable and extremely regrettable”. Many of those women, euphemistically called “comfort women” in Japan, were from the Korean Peninsula and the issue has strained bilateral ties.

The ministry pointed out that Japan confirmed with South Korea in a 2015 bilateral agreement about the “comfort women” issue that the term “sex slave” should be avoided.

The South Korean government under President Moon Jae-in has since found faults in the way the agreement was negotiated by his predecessor’s administration, but Tokyo has repeatedly called on Seoul to stick to it.

“The government of Japan continues to strongly urge [South Korea] to steadily implement the agreement as a ‘final and irreversible’ agreement,” the ministry’s Press Secretary Norio Maruyama said in the statement.

According to the ministry, South Korean Gender Equality and Family Minister Chung Hyun-back used the term in a meeting of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in Geneva.

She was being asked about a periodic report South Korea had submitted to the committee about its progress on implementing the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

After Chung’s remarks, Junichi Ihara, Japanese ambassador to the international organisations in Geneva, lodged a protest in a telephone call to his South Korean counterpart Choi Kyong-lim, who said he would pass the message on to Seoul.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung Wha is expected to speak at a UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva starting on Monday and she may bring up the comfort women issue there.

Japan investigated the issue in the early 1990s and issued a statement in 1993 acknowledging the women were in many cases recruited against their will. The Japanese government has not withdrawn this statement, but nonetheless objects to South Korea’s use of the phrase “sexual slavery”.