U.S. envoy backs Korea on ‘comfort women’ issue

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U.S. envoy backs Korea on ‘comfort women’ issue


Sung Kim

The top U.S. envoy to Seoul yesterday backed the Korean foreign minister’s call for the Japanese government to address the issue of its military’s forceful recruitment of women and girls as sexual slaves during World War II.

“The ‘comfort women’ issue, or the sex slavery issue, is a grave human rights violation,” U.S. Ambassador Sung Kim said yesterday during a forum at the Korea Press Center. The event was hosted by the Kwanhun Club forum, the oldest association of senior journalists in the country.

Kim said he agreed with the points made on the issue by Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se in his keynote address at the UN Human Rights Council on Wednesday.

In his speech at the 25th session of the council in Geneva on Wednesday, Yun addressed the problem of the “victims of wartime sexual slavery drafted by the Japanese imperial armed forces,” calling it a “universal human rights issue.”

This marks the first time a Korean foreign minister has used such strong wording to describe the issue at the council.

Yun further called out Japanese leaders for moving toward re-examining the 1993 Kono Statement, through which Japan effectively apologized for the physical and psychological damages and indignities suffered by those forcibly recruited into prostitution by the imperial government during the war.

“We understand the pain that’s felt by the surviving women,” Ambassador Kim said in regard to the plight of the victims. “We very much hope that the Japanese leadership addresses this important issue in a way that eases the [pain they feel].”

Regarding Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s surprise visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which honors war dead including more than a dozen Class-A war criminals, Kim added, “It’s not often that the United States expresses disappointment publicly about a close ally or a close friend.”

After Abe’s trip to the shrine on Dec. 26, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo expressed its “disappointment.”

Washington, Kim said, “made it very clear that we would like Japan to address concerns with its neighbors, and that includes refraining from actions” that can seem provocative.

He added this was because “we did feel very strongly about [Abe’s visit to the shrine].”

In terms of Washington’s role in the dispute, he said, “The way forward on this very important issue should be determined by Korea and Japan. What we can do, as a friend to both countries and an ally to both countries, is encourage the Japanese leadership to address these issues in a way that satisfies the concerns and the pains felt here in Korea.”

He also remarked on the landmark bill in the state of Virginia that calls for the joint use of the terms East Sea, preferred by Korea, and the Sea of Japan, in labeling the body of water between the two countries. The bill called for both designations to be used in new school text books, a law that will take effect July. The proposal came about through support from the local Korean community despite intense lobbying efforts by the Japanese government to block its passage.

“I will say as a Korean-American, in general, I think it’s good that the Korean-American community is becoming more vocal,” Kim said.

At the Kwanhun Club and U.S. Embassy debate, Kim spoke on the Korea-U.S. military alliance, which celebrated 60 years last year, the potential of the bilateral free trade agreement and North Korean affairs.

He particularly emphasized the significance of U.S. President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit in April on his four-country Asia tour that also includes Tokyo. Kim also backed the recent report by UN Commission of Inquiry on the human rights situation in North Korea and acknowledged that the human rights there is “deplorable.”

BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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