Yun has harsh words for Japan
In stronger language than ever before, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se raised with higher urgency in his keynote speech the issue of the Japanese military’s forceful recruitment of Asian women as sexual slaves during World War II. He urged Japan to resolve the matter and to admit to and take responsibility for its past actions, including through education of future generations.
Yun said in his address that it was not just “a bilateral issue, [but] a universal human rights” matter that had remained unresolved for generations.
This marks the first time a Korean foreign minister has spoken on comfort women at the Human Rights Council, much less used such strong wording to call out Japan.
Yun emphasized to his audience the courage of Japan’s victims, particularly those who came forward as witnesses.
“Twenty years ago, one of those victims had the courage to break her silence,” he said.
That one person’s “courageous action made others come forth,” and has since made this a living issue.
One such survivor included a Dutch-Australian woman, who testified in 2007 to the U.S. House of Representatives, breaking 50 years of silence, and referred to the matter as the “forgotten holocaust.”
Yun pointed out that just two days earlier, a “high-ranking education official” - referring to Yoshitaka Sakurada, Japan’s senior vice minister of education, culture, sports, science and technology - had made remarks indicating that the victims of sexual slavery had “fabricated” their testimonies.
Such remarks, he said, “Added insult to the dignity of the victims who weathered physical and psychological pain.”
Furthermore, he said, such actions by Japan are “a direct challenge to consistent requests” made by the international community.
He also spoke of the Japanese government’s intentions to re-examine the 1993 Kono Statement, which he reminded his listeners had effectively apologized for the physical and psychological damages and indignities suffered by Asian women forcibly recruited into prostitution by the imperial government during World War II.
“Sexual violence in armed conflict constitutes war crimes and a crime against humanity,” Yun said. “However, sexual violence in armed conflict is being perpetuated in many places in the world. All of us must work together to shed a light on these crimes.”
The Geneva-based council’s monthlong 25th session opened Monday with a four-day, high-level segment attended by ministers and other senior dignitaries. This is first time since 2006 that a Korean foreign minister has appeared at a session, when UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who served as foreign minister in the Roh Moo-hyun administration, attended the council.
In the speech, Yun promoted South Korea’s support for mainstreaming human rights, promoting the “happiness of the global village” and addressing human rights in North Korea.
But he spent the majority of the last part of his speech addressing the subject of combatting sexual violence in military conflicts.
Yun also welcomed the report released in February by the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea detailing human rights crimes in the reclusive state and recommending action by the International Criminal Court.
In a panel on Monday, the North Korean delegate to the council said that his country “rejected” the COI report and said “it is preposterous for the EU and Japan to accuse others of human rights.”
He said that during Japan’s colonial rule of Korea, it “committed such crimes against humanity” including abductions, massacres and “forcing 200,000 women and girls into sexual slavery [for its military].”
The North Korean delegate urged “Japan to settle its past crimes by accepting state and legal responsibility for the crimes” and to “sincerely apologize and compensate victims and bring to justice those responsible for the crimes against humanity in order to show its determination not to repeat such [atrocities].”
The Japanese delegate at the panel responded, “The current cabinet shares the same recognition and has adopted the stance that has been adopted by previous administrations.”
BY SARAH KIM [email@example.com]