Clear all suspicionsLast week’s stunning remarks by Lee Yong-soo, a 91-year-old survivor of Japan’s sexual slavery during wartime, fuel the controversy over the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance (KCJR), a civic group dedicated to helping the victims. Lee declared she would not participate in the 28-year-long weekly rally in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul to denounce Japan for its military sexual slavery. She criticized Yoon Mi-hyang — former board chairwoman of the KCJR and a lawmaker elected in the April 15 parliamentary elections — for abusing her power in the past.
Lee’s complaints are basically twofold.
First, she raised issue with how the civic group had collected and used a huge amount of donations from the public. The accounting records of KCJR over the last four years suggest a dearth of financial support for the victims themselves. Yoon’s election as a legislator — and her daughter currently studying in the United States — intensified suspicions about whether the donations were spent properly.
It also turned out that Yoon confined the scope of recipients of scholarships — which she created through contributions to another former sex slave’s funeral — to children of civic activists. If proven, it seriously damages the reputation of the KCJR.
In Monday’s press conference, the civic group refuted Lee’s accusations by claiming that it had been using the donation for righteous causes, including financial aid to survivors and establishment of museums, in a transparent way. The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, which has the right to monitor the civic group, must discover the truth behind all suspicions.
Another problem involves the role Yoon played before and after the 2015 Seoul-Tokyo agreement on compensation for victims of former sexual slavery. Lee claimed that the civic group did not inform them about the 1 billion yen ($9.3 million) compensation Tokyo had agreed to pay. Another survivor claimed that KCJR pressured them to not accept the money — 100 million won ($81,700) per person.
After coming to power in 2017, the Moon Jae-in administration dismantled the 2015 compensation agreement between the Park Geun-hye administration and Abe Shinzo government on the grounds that the Korean government did not get the consent of survivors. The Moon administration must clear all the suspicions by checking conversation records between Yoon and the Foreign Ministry.
The wartime sexual slavery has become the most sensitive diplomatic issue between Seoul and Tokyo. It should not be used as a tool for political fights. The longer the controversy lasts, the more advantages Japan will have.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 12, Page 30