‘Comfort woman’ and activist dies at 90; 44 remain

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‘Comfort woman’ and activist dies at 90; 44 remain

Kim Kyung-soon, who survived sexual enslavement at the hands of the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II, died Saturday at Asan Medical Center in Seoul.

She was 90 years old.

The cause was chronic illness, according to the civilian organization Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan. Kim’s death means that there are now just 44 surviving “comfort women” registered with the Korean government.

For the past two dozens years, Kim, a member of the council, worked as a longtime activist to draw international attention to the plight of the tens of thousands of girls and women forced to work in Japanese military brothels throughout Asia during the early 20th century.

According to the council, Kim had been coerced into sexual slavery at a military brothel in Hiroshima at the age of 19.

She first spoke out about her past in 1992, and was a strong voice thereafter in spreading awareness about around the brutalities Korea’s comfort women endured and a regular at the weekly Wednesday rallies held in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, where activists have gathered for years to demand an official apology Tokyo.

Kim was also one of the survivors who testified in person for a Japanese government investigation into the comfort women issue, which eventually led Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono to issue in August 1993 a landmark statement acknowledging and apologizing for its military’s wartime aggressions.

Initially, 238 women officially registered with the government as surviving comfort women. Kim’s death follows the passing of another less than a week ago.

On Tuesday, a 90-year-old woman known only by her surname, Choi, a resident of Yangsan, South Gyeongsang, died at a local hospital following long-lasting illness.

On Dec. 28, the Foreign Ministries of Korea and Japan reached a breakthrough deal that promised an apology from Tokyo and a multimillion-dollar fund for the surviving victims.

However, some of the women have called for the deal to be scrapped, demanding a clearer apology from Japan as well as legal responsibility over the issue.
BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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