Starting all over again
Seoul and Tokyo declared at the end of last year - the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule and the 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties - that the issue of Japan’s wartime enslavement of Korean women was resolved “finally and irreversibly.”
That agreement is both baffling and embarrassing. The “comfort women” issue poses painful questions to a country about its people and their very nature.
This is a basic moral issue, a most universal human rights issue and a most humanitarian issue - not simply an issue between the people of Korea and Japan. This is a question for the world, asking how the international community must approach a war crime and sexual violence committed by a totalitarian state. If a war crime by a totalitarian state can be resolved by the declaration of a final and irreversible settlement between countries, how can we face crimes against humanity and peace, which have no statute of limitation?
Let us think about the issue calmly. What has been revealed and resolved?
First, let us talk about finding the truth. Did the governments of Korea and Japan, or a joint investigation by an international entity, carry out an investigation? Second, was there an official admission of - and apology for - a war crime against humanity under international law? Third, was there compensation or restitution? Fourth, was a memorial for the humanity to remember the victims and the incident built? Fifth, was there a promise that there would be no recurrence of a similar incident?
There was no fact-finding survey, and it is a very serious issue that the third parties, not the victims, talked about a final settlement. As many theories about tolerance showed, an offender’s demand for forgiveness and reconciliation before a victim brings up the issue is a secondary offense. The arrogant belief that the monument for the comfort women can be removed based on the agreement between governments is a classic example of a secondary offense.
Declaring a final and irreversible settlement by the assailant - without the victims’ consent - must never be the way. The president stressed that the agreement should be something that could be accepted by the victims and the people. But before the Park Geun-hye administration settled the issue with Japan, it didn’t even bother to communicate with the victims. If the Blue House, government, officials and ruling party had ever considered the victims, there would have been no such high-handedness.
Contempt always starts from oneself. Unless you look down upon yourself first, no human being is held in contempt by others. The state especially never let its people be held in contempt. “It shall be the duty of the State to confirm and guarantee the fundamental and inviolable human rights of individuals,” the Constitution of Korea states. But because of the state’s attempt to look down on its people, the conflict is now moved inside Korean society.
Because of the government’s promise that was not accepted by the victims, a new controversy will start over keeping the promise between Korea and Japan.
Of course, Japan will be more aggressive in this new controversy. Appeals by the Korean civic community to the international community and their movements for human rights of the former comfort women would be attacked as a violation of the agreement.
This unprecedented situation will be caused by the victimized country’s agreement that the offender can scold the victim over a war crime and the history of international laws and agreements on human rights. Borrowing from Nietzsche, it will be an “inverted world” where the sick will make the healthy sick. And preventing this must be our most important goal.
It is hard to understand what the president referred to as the “urgency in time and conditions in our reality,” but I hope we won’t repeat the double standard of trading anticommunism and pro-Japanese sentiment from the days of the country’s founding. The government has been extremely stubborn about lifting the sanctions on North Korea, resuming tourism on Mount Kumgang, apologizing over the past and revealing the truth behind the sinking of the Sewol ferry. And yet, the government is generous on the comfort women issue.
Korea, Japan and the United States will accelerate their military cooperation, moving beyond the barrier of the comfort women issue. The government is trying to buy the human rights of the sex slaves with economic assistance, while insisting that the North Korea rights issue is not an economic issue, but a political issue. This double standard must be stopped. The government must also stop exercising its double standard that the human rights of the former comfort women can be sacrificed for the sake of Korea-Japan cooperation, while it makes no concessions about the human rights issues in North Korea, even for the sake of inter-Korean cooperation.
The recent agreement is invalid because it failed to win the victims’ and public’s acceptance, the final line set by the president. The government must lay bare the negotiation process transparently, and the National Assembly must conduct an investigation. And then, the two countries must immediately start a joint fact-finding survey to find a final and irreversible settlement.
The world expressed its appreciation when the former comfort women came forward, because the crimes committed against them were crimes against humanity that had long been buried. It was finally laid bare because of their courage to break their silence.
It is shameful that we hurriedly sutured their wounds and made them look like narrow-minded people who keep making demands for an issue that has been finally and irreversibly settled.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 1, Page 31
*The author is a political science professor at Yonsei University.
by Park Myung-lim