Japan again fails to mention forced laborers in report

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Japan again fails to mention forced laborers in report

The Korean government on Tuesday expressed regret that Japan again failed to keep its promise to commemorate victims of wartime forced labor in its most recent report following the designation of Meiji-era industrial facilities as Unesco World Heritage sites in 2015.

The State of Conservation report submitted by the Japanese cabinet secretariat and posted on the Unesco World Heritage Centre’s website Monday made no reference of “forced” laborers who were brought to work for the Meiji industrial facilities, as previously pledged by Tokyo.

In July 2015, Unesco designated 23 industrial facilities from the Meiji era to its World Heritage list.

Seoul had opposed this designation because Koreans had been forced to work at seven of those industrial sites, including shipyards and coal mines, during the 1910-45 Japanese colonial rule.

Such facilities included Hashima Island, or Battleship Island, located off the city of Nagasaki in Japan, where hundreds of Koreans were forced to work under harsh conditions in coal mines during World War II.

The World Heritage Committee in July 2015 in Bonn, Germany, recommended that the Japanese government come up with a strategy to allow an understanding of the full history of each site.

In turn, Kuni Sato, then-Japanese ambassador to Unesco, recognized 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.”

The Japanese representative promised to take “appropriate measures” to “remember the victims such as the establishment of information center.”

It was the first time Japan stated clearly on an international platform that Koreans were brought against their will and forced to work under harsh conditions during World War II.

However, Japan has not included such terminology in its progress reports since nor followed up on its pledge to open information centers at seven industrial sites to remember the forced labor victims and commemorate those who lost their lives.

The recent report by Japan states it will research historical documents on Hashima and will “work with citizen groups to interview former miners and their families to learn about the realities of their labor and day-to-day lives in Hashima at the time.”

The Korean Foreign Ministry on Tuesday in a statement noted that the current and preceding progress reports do not “include the implementation of the follow-up measures promised by the Japanese side” and expressed “regret at this lack of concrete measures by Japan.”

The Korean Foreign Ministry also expressed “disappointment” that despite a June 2018 decision by the World Heritage Committee encouraging dialogue between the two countries and requests by the Korean government, the Japanese government “has shown no willingness to engage in dialogue” and instead prepared and published the progress report without any consultation with the Korean government.

It went on to urge Tokyo to “faithfully implement the follow-up measures to remember the victims that Japan promised to the international community” and for the Japanese government “to engage in dialogue on this matter.”

Tokyo has also accused Seoul of failing to keep promises especially following the Korean Supreme Court rulings ordering Japanese companies to compensate forced labor victims.

Japan previously submitted a progress report to the World Heritage Centre in December 2017.

A 2018 decision from the center requested Japan to “provide an update on overall interpretation” upon the completion of the information center.

The latest report states that the Industrial Heritage Information Centre construction will be completed at the end of this month, however it is unclear if it will commemorate forced labor victims in any form.

The World Heritage Committee will hold its 44th session in July 2020.

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