Obama aide receives 2 ex-sex slaves

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Obama aide receives 2 ex-sex slaves

Two victims of sexual slavery by the Japanese military held a landmark meeting with White House officials last week, with a follow-up meeting presumably in the works - another indication the international community is stepping up pressure on Tokyo to resolve the issue.

This follows the Japanese government’s move earlier this summer to discredit its 1993 statement by Yohei Kono, chief cabinet secretary at the time, that acknowledged and apologized for its Imperial Army’s forcible recruitment of girls and women into sexual slavery before and during World War II. The Shinzo Abe administration initiated a “re-examination” of the statement recently, which, while leaving the statement intact, still infuriated the Korean government.

Groups of elderly Korean victims have redoubled their efforts over the summer to meet human rights organizations and officials in cities across the world, including Washington, Paris and Geneva, to spread awareness of their plight.

Two victims, Lee Ock-seon, 87, and Kang Il-chul, 86, met with White House officials on July 30 for two hours. The two women met with Paulette Aniskoff, director of the Office of Public Engagement, and on the following day with State Department officials from the Japan and Korea desks.

Aniskoff posted a picture on Twitter Monday taken with Lee and Kang during the closed-door meeting with the message, “Met with two brave Korean ‘comfort women,’ Ok-seon [sic] Lee and Il-chul Kang, last week; their stories are heartbreaking.”

White House officials may hold a second meeting with the Korean victims, some sources said. Advocates hoped that the second meeting could lead to pressure from Washington on Japan.

Rep. Mike Honda, a California congressman of Japanese descent and longtime advocate on the issue in the United States, helped arrange the meetings in Washington.

Lee and Kang, with a group of rights activists from the House of Sharing in Gyeonggi, embarked on a three-week U.S. tour on July 21 that included stops in Los Angeles and New York and a ceremony in Union City, New Jersey, to unveil the seventh monument to comfort women in the United States.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Tuesday confirmed the meetings, saying they had happened at the request of the House of Sharing.

Korean victims have been active in rights movements both at home and abroad, and have periodically met with U.S. lawmakers and State Department officials.

“It is deplorable and clearly a grave human rights violation of enormous proportions that the Japanese military was involved in the trafficking of women for sexual purposes,” Psaki said.

She asked Tokyo “to continue to address this issue in a manner that promotes healing.”

The top UN human rights official expressed “profound regret” that Japan has failed to resolve the issue of its wartime sexual slavery.

“During my visit to Japan in 2010, I appealed to the government to provide effective redress to the victims of wartime sexual slavery,” said Navi Pillay, UN high commissioner for human rights, in a statement from her Geneva headquarters on Wednesday.

Pillay said that rather than justice, the women are facing renewed denials and degrading remarks by public figures in Japan. The commissioner pointed to the report issued by the Japanese government-appointed study team on June 20 that in her opinion discredited the 1993 Kono Statement.

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

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