Japan will cite forced labor at UN history site

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Japan will cite forced labor at UN history site

Japan has agreed to acknowledge that Koreans were forced to work in some of its Meiji-era industrial sites during its colonial rule. Tokyo has been attempting to include those locations in a UN list of cultural history locations; after opposition by Korea to the Japanese omission of any reference to the forced labor that took place there, Tokyo agreed to a footnote with that information, according to foreign affairs officials in Seoul on Sunday.

The Unesco World Heritage Committee was scheduled to vote on the inclusion of a group of 23 Meiji Industrial Revolution sites into the list of World Cultural Heritage sites in a meeting in Bonn, Germany, on Saturday, but after Seoul and Tokyo failed to reach a quick consensus on the issue, the 21-member World Heritage Committee delayed its review of the designation by a day. A new vote was scheduled for late Sunday night in Korea.

Japan and Korea are both members of that committee, and Germany is hosting its 39th session, which will end Wednesday.

Seoul had voiced concerns over Tokyo’s move because the industrial sites, mainly in Japan’s southwest, include seven facilities where 57,900 Koreans were forced to work during the 1940s, often under conditions of maltreatment and abuse. Korea was a Japanese colony from 1910 until 1945.

The Korean government has said that it was not opposed to the inclusion of all 23 Japanese industrial sites to the cultural heritage list, but asked Japan to add an annotation to the Unesco document on the later history of the sites and acknowledge the full history of these locations.

Differences persisted over how detailed the annotation would be and whether or not it would say there was “forced labor” at the sites, according to Japanese media and officials here.

After last-minute negotiations between Seoul and Tokyo, Japan agreed to include a footnote to its documents that for the first time recognize the forced conscription of these Koreans.

The footnote, according to a Seoul official, is expected to read: “Japan is prepared to take measures that allow an understanding that there were a large number of Koreans and others, who were brought against their will and forced to work under harsh conditions in the 1940s at some of the sites.”

Japan also reportedly agreed to include information about forced laborers at information centers in the areas comprising the sites. Korean officials said Japan was also expected to submit a progress report to the World Heritage Committee at the end of 2017, and undergo a review of measures it has taken in 2018.

Although the International Council on Monuments and Sites, a panel that reviews World Heritage candidate sites, advised Unesco in March to endorse Japan’s industrial heritage sites, Korea gathered a group of foreign historians and U.S. politicians to support its objections.

Publicity about the forced labor in the 1940s was the main demand of the protesters.

Japan argued that the period for which the site was proposed for the Unesco list was from 1868 to 1912, the Meiji period in that country, and any abuses that may have happened there are not relevant to the reason for adding the site. Critics said Japan was trying to downplay an ugly part of its history.

BY SARAH KIM, KIM HYUNG-EUN [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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