[Big Issue] Cover Story on the Comfort Women I

‘Comfort Women (Japanese Military Sexual Slavery, ‘위안부’ in Korean)’,
Our Girls Whom Nobody Takes Responsibility For

On 14 August 1991, Hak-Sun Kim attested that she was conscripted for sexual slavery by the Japanese military under the Japanese colonial rule when she was only sweet sixteen. She was the first woman in South Korea to come forward for testimonials on the Japanese Military Sexual Slavery. After her testimonial, a series of testimonials that were confessed by around 200 victims of the sexual slavery have been given. Certainly, this has deeply affected the entire world.

However, it seems naïve to believe that the current Japan government would make a heartfelt apology and compensation for the victims. It has been 25 years since Kim’s very first testimony but the heartbreaking outcry from the victims has continued until now. By taking a look at ‘Wednesday Demonstration’ that has been held for 24 years on every Wednesdays and the interview with an artist couple who created the Statue of Peace (‘평화의 소녀상’ in Korean), which has become the victims’ alter ego, let us take one step forward to the entity of the Comfort Women issue that nobody has taken responsibility for.

For Whom The Accommodation Exists
Never-Ending ‘Wednesday Demonstration’ For The Past 24 Years

Including Hee-Nam Yoo’s death on July 10, 6 Comfort Women in total have passed away in 2016. We now have only 40 Comfort Women out of 238 who have registered with the South Korean government. More and more, the voice of the victims has been dimly fading away but no measure for modification on the South Korea-Japan Comfort Women Agreement, which has been assessed as a rough-and-ready one, has been set up. The voice, claiming for abolishing the agreement was being strongly exerted during the 1241st Wednesday Demonstration that has been held for 24 years on every Wednesdays without any cancellation.

Japanese Military Sexual Slavery or so-called the Comfort Women refers to the female war victims who were abducted and then sexually abused by the Japanese military under Japanese colonial rule for the sake of quenching the soldiers’ sexual desire during World War II. After 1990, when a Dutch victim Jan Ruff O’Herne gave evidence on this issue for the first time, Hak-Sun Kim from South Korea held a press conference in the following year too, to testify that she was also one of the sex slaves.

Despite the successive testimonies and press conferences about the Comfort Women issue, no sincere apology and compensation for the victims by the Japanese government has been made, unfortunately. Instead, it was announced on 28 December 2015 that the South Korean and Japanese government reached to make an agreement on the Comfort Women issue during the South Korea-Japan’s ministerial talks.

Following the news, not only the victims but also the citizens were into a state of confusion and rage because the agreement was peremptorily accommodated while excluding the victims, and it was written with the sentence that the settlement would be final and irreversible. It shows no promise of preventing the recurrence of the war crime but just eagerness to close the case as soon as possible. Needless to say, the South Korean citizens’ resentment on the agreement spread to the Wednesday Demonstration.

On the 1241ST Wednesday Demonstration, the hood in front of the Japanese Embassy in South Korea where the Statue of Peace is situated was so crowded with some civic groups and students even 1 hour before the demonstration was kicked off. While the police officers were setting up a barricade beforehand so that pedestrians had no possible inconvenience, the citizens and students coming from across the nation were peacefully waiting for the commencement of the demonstration.

Starting with a singing performance, the demonstration that was deliberated by Chan-Mi Park, the head of Gender Equality Department of the Korean Government Employees’ Union, lasted with several citizens’ free speech and proclamation. The police estimated that around a thousand people attended the demonstration. Regardless of the hot midsummer sun, every attendee made one voice that has a colossal resonance altogether.It is so clear what the Wednesday Demonstration has been demanding since 24 years ago. That is the current Japanese government’s official recognition

It is so clear what the Wednesday Demonstration has been demanding since 24 years ago. That is the current Japanese government’s official recognition of the war crime conducted by the Japanese military of the Colonial Empire of Japan and legal compensation for the victims. This year, in particular, one thing is added, which is the immediate abrogation of the recent agreement on the Comfort Women issue that was signed on 28 December 2015, and the annulment of a planned project to establish the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation.

In the statement that was distributed during the 1241st Wednesday Demonstration, it is stated that the two governments’ plan to establish the foundation without any consent from the victims means the South Korean government’s formal recognition of the agreement, which is humiliating, and this can be read as a way of political violence on the victims inflicted by the government.

Unlike this argument from the Wednesday Demonstration, unfortunately, the establishment of the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation has initiated on July 28, this year. The foundation that is built with a billion funded by the Japanese government will promote some projects that would support the victims. This will be one of the main pending issues during the upcoming weekly Wednesday Demonstration sessions. Yet, it is indeterminate to know when the last Wednesday Demonstration would be, that has continued for 24 years.

Story Seong-Cheol Bae
Translation Soyoun Park