[THE VOICE OF MINORITY]Little comfort, little timeHope fills us as the new year begins with a new president. We expect reforms not only in politics but also in such areas as education and women's affairs.
The basis of President-elect Roh Moo-hyun's policies is "to make a country that has principles and foundations." With Mr. Roh, the comfort women who were conscripted by the Japanese government to work as sex slaves during World War II now hope that a foreign policy, which has principles and foundations, may be formulated against the Japanese government.
In 1990, the Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan was established. When comfort women from the council made their first testimonies about the human rights abuses they had experienced, the Japanese government strongly denied the allegations. But when evidence that the Japanese government systematically organized the comfort women system was found inside a Japanese government office, the discovery proved war crimes had been committed. Despite its acknowledgment, the Japanese government did not compensate the comfort women, saying its obligations ended with a 1965 agreement between Korea and Japan. But the Japanese government was proved wrong by the UN Human Rights Commission and the International Labor Organization.
The Japanese government in 1995 established a fund, which was financed by some Japanese citizens and a government budget, to give the comfort women some consolation money. But the comfort women refused to accept the money, demanding instead an apology and compensation from Japan's head of state. The Korean government at that time supported the comfort women by recommending they not receive the "unjust" Japanese consolation money and giving them the Korean government's own consolation money.
A research team from the council recently found 22 documents in a U.S. government archive that prove the Japanese government conscripted comfort women. Additional documents that say Japanese businesses were involved with the management of the comfort women were discovered as well. According to one document, the businesses provided 10,000 to 30,000 comfort women, mostly Korean, to laborers in Japanese mines to fulfill the workers' sexual needs.
Last Wednesday marked the 11th anniversary of the comfort women's protests. In 1992, comfort women and their supporters began protesting against the Japanese government, and each Wednesday since then the protests have been held near the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.
The new government, which claims to become a country of principles, should demand that the Japanese government acknowledge its human rights abuse cases and compensate the comfort women. Many of the surviving comfort women are quite elderly, and little time remains for them.
by Kim Yun-ok
The writer represents the Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan.