UN chief says he didn’t take sides on settlement

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UN chief says he didn’t take sides on settlement

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres denied reports on Monday that he had expressed support for the 2015 deal between Seoul and Tokyo on the issue of the Japanese military’s sex slavery during World War II.

Japanese media reported Sunday that the UN chief told Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that he supports the agreement, signed by Tokyo and Seoul on Dec. 28, 2015, on the sidelines of the Group of Seven, or G-7, summit in the Taormina, Italy, on Saturday.

Abe was said to have stressed the importance of complying with the agreement, and Guterres reportedly said he “supports and welcomes” the deal, according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

This led civic organizations here to demand that the UN secretary general clarify his position on the issue.

“The UN human rights agencies pointed out the problems with the 2015 Korea-Japan agreement right after it was sealed,” civic groups said in a letter to Guterres. “Furthermore, the UN Committee against Torture recently recommended renegotiating it.”

It added that it would “express regret should Japanese reports that the UN secretary general supports the agreement prove to be true.”

The UN Committee against Torture, under the UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, issued a report on May 12 calling on Tokyo and Seoul to revise the agreement to provide surviving victims proper redress, reparations and assurance that it will not happen again.

A UN spokesman said while Guterres and Abe did discuss the issue, the secretary general had said that it “is a matter to be solved by an agreement between Japan and the Republic of Korea.”

“The secretary general did not pronounce himself on the content of a specific agreement,” said Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for Guterres, “but on the principle that it is up to the two countries to define the nature and the content of the solution for this issue.”

The 2015 agreement, struck between the two countries’ foreign ministries, consisted of the Japanese prime minister’s apology and a 1 billion yen ($8.98 million) fund for the victims. From the onset, the agreement has been criticized by some victims who said that it did not take into consideration their viewpoints or adequately address their grievances.

President Moon Jae-in told Prime Minister Abe in their first phone conversation on May 11 that the deal was “not accepted” by most of the Korean public.

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

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