Japan hedges on comfort women

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Japan hedges on comfort women

A Japanese government spokesman yesterday said Tokyo plans to go ahead with a reexamination of the Kono Statement - Japan’s position on its forceful recruitment of women into sexual slavery during World War II - despite Korea taking the issue to the international stage at a human rights council in Geneva on Wednesday.

Hiroshige Seko, deputy chief cabinet secretary, said at an upper house budget meeting on Thursday, “After seeing the results of the reexamination, the government will explain its position on the comfort women situation to international society.”

Seko said that a team to investigate the testimonies of the victims “had begun to be formed,” but that the government “has not decided” on a schedule for the investigation.

The Japanese government recently announced plans to “reexamine” the landmark 1993 apology by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, through which Japan acknowledged and apologized for its military’s forceful recruitment of Asian women to serve as sex slaves during World War II.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga last month proposed launching an investigation to “reexamine and understand the background” of the testimony by 16 Korean women who were forced to serve as sex slaves by the Japanese Imperial Army, which eventually led to the 1993 apology.

Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Wednesday urged Japan to speedily repent for and resolve the so-called comfort women issue, and to stop hurtful actions that seem to deny its past apologies.

In Geneva, Minister Yun met with the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Thursday to further stress the importance of the international community’s attention to the comfort women issue.

“Pillay has a background as a South African judge,” said a foreign affairs official yesterday, “and especially because she is a women herself, she emphasized the need to continue to raise the comfort women issue as an issue of sexual violence.”

He added, “A representative from a non-governmental organization from the Netherlands came up and expressed a message of thanks for Minister Yun’s speech.”

In response to Yun’s keynote address, the Japanese envoy to Geneva on Thursday gave a stock answer, saying the Japanese government has no intention of going back on the Kono Statement and that the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe administration intends to uphold the past apology.

Japan’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Takashi Okada, said at a general session of the Human Rights Council, “Since then, the position of the government of Japan has not changed at all. The government of Japan has never spoken of reviewing the Kono Statement.”

In his comment, Okada tried to differentiate between “reviewing” and “reexamining” the Kono Statement.

In response, Yoo Yeon-cheol, deputy chief of the South Korea mission to the UN in Geneva, urged Japan to recognize its legal responsibility for the comfort women issue, saying that “political leaders have recently tried to deny the Kono Statement of 1993” and that “such actions constitute a direct challenge to the historical truth.

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

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