Comfort woman issue lives on, says UN envoy

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Comfort woman issue lives on, says UN envoy

Last year’s agreement between Seoul and Tokyo may have diplomatically resolved the so-called comfort women issue but it didn’t end the international discussion of the Japanese military’s wartime sexual slavery, said the top Korean envoy to the United Nations.

“We resolved the diplomatic issue between Korea and Japan and reached the deal with the intent of normalizing diplomatic relations,” said Oh Joon, Korean Ambassador to the UN, during a parliamentary audit of his mission conducted by the National Assembly Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee in New York on Monday. “The comfort women issue has come to a close as a diplomatic issue between Korea and Japan.”

The ambassador continued, “Just because there was an agreement last December does not mean that this directly affects the discussions that are happening on the issue in the international arena including the United Nations.

Oh was responding to a question by a lawmaker who said the bilateral agreement did not satisfy the victims of the Imperial Japanese Army’s forced recruitment of young women into sexual slavery during World War II.

The two countries’ foreign ministries struck an agreement last Dec. 28 that included an apology from the Japanese prime minister and a plan to establish a 1 billion yen ($9.77 million) fund for the victims taken from Japan’s state budget. This agreement was to be “final and irreversible” so long as its terms were faithfully implemented.

At the beginning of September, Tokyo transferred 1 billion yen to a Seoul-based foundation to support victims, who are euphemistically referred to as comfort women. Some victims have protested the agreement, calling upon Japan to take clear legal responsibility for war crimes and pay criminal damages.

Oh’s remarks come as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday told a Japanese Diet budget committee that he “is not at all considering” issuing an apology letter to the Korean victims of sexual slavery.

Abe was asked by a lawmaker whether he is taking into consideration a request for an apology letter under his name to the comfort women victims.

The prime minister said that “both countries are required to sincerely implement the agreement,” and maintained such an apology letter “was not included” in the terms of the Dec. 28 deal.

Abe has throughout his term made remarks denying the forced nature of the recruitment of the victims.

“We will refrain from speaking on Prime Minister Abe’s remarks and specific phrases he used,” said Cho June-hyuck, spokesman of the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a press briefing Tuesday when asked about Abe’s remark. “But we hope to continue to cooperate with Japan to respect the spirit and purpose of the Dec. 28 agreement, to restore the honor and dignity of the victims and heal the scars in their hearts as soon as possible.”

Cho pointed out, “The issue of the comfort women victims of the Japanese military is a complex one that includes: firstly, the Korea-Japan bilateral diplomatic issue; secondly, the global issue of universal human rights; thirdly, the historical lesson to be remembered; and fourthly, the personal restoration of the dignity and honor of the victims.”

On Oh’s remark in the parliamentary audit, the spokesman added, “On the condition that the agreement is faithfully implemented, the two countries’ will not raise again the comfort women issue as a diplomatic issue. But we will continue to partake in discussions in the international community on wartime sexual violence, women’s rights and promoting the protection of human rights and other universal values.”

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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