Council fights for ex-comfort womenShin Hye-su, along with three other members of the Korean Council for Women Drafted into Sexual Slavery by Japan, slept at their office every day last week. They were busy assisting former comfort women who were outraged by an incident last month: the nude photographs of Korean actress Lee Seung-yeon that depicted her as a Japanese sex slave during World War II.
Last Thursday, as the fury surrounding the incident began to cool after a public burning of the photographs and negatives, the staff at the council were finally able to shake off their exhaustion and brief reporters of the situation.
The council, which was set up in November 1990 by two women, Lee Hyo-jae and Yun Jeong-ok, was created to counsel former comfort women. They deal with the press whenever issues related to comfort women come into the public spotlight. When the government and the public lost interest in the former comfort women, the group of activists made sure the victims were taken care of.
“One of our achievements has been the change in public attitude toward the comfort women,” says Yun Mi-hyang, the council’s secretary-general.
“They were shy and embarrassed about their past. Now they seem to have a renewed dignity and courage. We made them realize that they are not sinners, but victims of organized crimes by the Japanese government.”
The former comfort women didn’t open up to the activists overnight. For years, the council staff sat with the victims and listened to their stories of shame, what the women believed to be a disgraceful past.
Since 1991, about 210 women have come forward to identify themselves as former sex slaves of the Japanese Army. As of last year, there were only 133 living members of this group.
“Researchers who were involved in documenting the history of comfort women met and talked with each one,” she says. “More and more we feel that there isn’t much time left for this job. These ladies are getting old.”
So far, the group has helped in producing 20 videotapes and 30 research publications that document the stories of the women, while pressing the urgency of settling issues surrounding the controversy.
The group is still working with victims to receive an official apology and compensation from the Japanese government. The street rallies, which they have been holding every Wednesday in front the Japanese Embassy for the past 11 years, were held last week for the 597th time.
The Japanese government, which had repeatedly denied the charges, finally admitted in 1993 that it had forcefully drafted Korean women into their army to serve as sex slaves, but it is still refusing to provide compensation to the victims.
The U.N. Human Rights Commission declared that the comfort women issue was a violation of international law by the Japanese Army. The United Nations demanded that the Japanese government take legal responsibility for the matter, provide separate compensation to each victim and punish those involved.
“The amount of attention paid to this issue on the part of the Korean public has been declining of late,” Ms. Shin says. “However, it’s only now beginning to emerge as an international news story.”
by Moon Kyung-ran
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