[EDITORIALS]The 500th rejected plea

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[EDITORIALS]The 500th rejected plea

This week marked the 500th Wednesday demonstration by the Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery and former "comfort women." They gather in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.

The first such demonstration was held on Jan. 8, 1992 on the occasion of Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa's visit to Korea. But their cries for the truth about the Japanese Army's sexual enslavement of Korean women during World War II and for an official apology from the Japanese government and compensation for victims remain unanswered.

Our society traditionally demanded chastity and sexual innocence of women, and the pain the women had to overcome to declare to the world that they were once sex slaves is unimaginable. The elderly women on the sidewalk in the middle of the city were showing courage Wednesday. It is that courage that brought the story of comfort women to the forefront as an unresolved social issue.

At the heart of the issue is giving back the women their honor and human integrity; it is not about money. Professor Haruki Wada of the University of Tokyo led a group that set up the Asian Peace and Friendship Foundation for Women in 1995 to gather compensation for the victims. But the elderly women have so far refused the money on the grounds that only the Japanese government can give them their honor back. The Women's International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan's Military Sexual Slavery began holding trials in Tokyo in late 2000 and moved them to New York and The Hague.

Those unofficial tribunals have found the Japanese government and Emperor Hirohito guilty of sexual enslavement. The court is a private organization, but Tokyo must heed the international community's position reflected in the decision that sexual slavery by the military was a war crime.

Since the Wednesday rallies began 10 years ago, 61 former comfort women have died; 141 of those confirmed still alive are also in the twilight of the lives.

Before they all pass away, the Japanese government must show that it is trying to get at the truth. Tokyo must no longer pretend that it does not hear the cries every Wednesday.

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