No comfort for wartime sex slaves
“I was a beloved daughter of a family in Gyeongju when I was dragged to the ‘comfort camp’ at age 15,” says Gang Il-chul, 85, shaking her head at memories of forced sexual slavery for the Japanese military during World War II. “I survived there for the next four years. The Japanese are still saying there is no ‘proof’ that we were forced to be sex slaves. What better proof than myself? Are they humans?”
Gang is one of a group of former “comfort women,” as the euphemism has it, who have staged a rally in front of the Japanese Embassy in central Seoul every Wednesday since January 1992 to protest Japan’s lack of remorse.
In the midst of new refusals by Japanese politicians to accept blame for the country’s war crime against Korean women, yesterday’s rally was special. It also marked the first anniversary of the Constitution Court’s ruling that the Korean government was denying the women’s right to pursue happiness, guaranteed by the constitution, because of its lackluster efforts to resolve the issue and get some justice for the women. Yesterday was also the 102th anniversary of Japan’s colonization of Korea in 1910.
Gang lives in a shelter in Gwangju, Gyeonggi, along with seven other former sex slaves from the war. They have sent invitations to 724 politicians to visit the shelter to talk to them about the war. It’s the first time they’ve sent such invitations.
At yesterday’s rally, five former sex slaves were seated next to the bronze statue of a teenage girl erected in front of the Japanese Embassy to celebrate the 1,000th Wednesday rally last December.
“It has been a year since the Constitutional Court’s ruling, but what did the government do for us?” Park Ok-seon, 89, shouted. “My memory [about the slavery] is fading. I’m worried about who will bother resolving this matter for us after we die?”
There are only 60 surviving comfort women among the reported 200,000 who were forced into sexual slavery.
“The Japanese should visit us in person and make an apology,” Park said.
Roughly 200 people participated in the rally along with Kim Il-ran, a documentary director, and some Japanese tourists.
Eight Japanese students at Ehime University on Shikoku Island also joined the demonstration, led by Wada Toshihiro, a professor at the university.
“Some said it would be dangerous for me to visit Korea, but I thought we need to understand the true history and circumstance of both countries in order to maintain peace between them,” said Aoi Yuji, a 19-year-old Japanese student. “In Japan, the Dokdo issue is drawing public attention every day, but most people don’t know much about the comfort women issue. I feel really sorry to see these women here.”
Beijing’s state-run Xinhua News Agency on Tuesday denounced recent controversial remarks by Japanese politicians about the sex slave issue, saying, “Japan is distorting history.”
It refuted Japan’s claim that there are no documents to prove the history, saying there are Japanese Foreign Ministry records that show the Japanese military operated at least 73 internment camps where Chinese, Taiwanese and Korean women were detained as sex slaves.
Xinhua said Beijing “felt surprise, anger, and disappointment” over Tokyo’s refusal to acknowledge the suffering of the women.
By Lee Won-jean, Kim Hee-jin [firstname.lastname@example.org]