'Comfort women' graves and memorial ordered to move
A memorial park and grave site for survivors of Japanese wartime sexual slavery has been ordered to be relocated by the city government of Gwangju, Gyeonggi, according to comfort women support organization House of Sharing on Tuesday.
Gwangju municipal government ordered the relocation of the urns containing the ashes of the women by Oct. 1 and imposed a fine of 1.8 million won ($1,600) on the House of Sharing, claiming the installation of the memorial park behind the organization’s main building violated the law governing land usage in the area.
The House of Sharing is a charitable organization that houses surviving "comfort women" –– a euphemism for young girls and women who were forcibly or deceptively recruited into sexual slavery for the imperial Japanese military during World War II, now well advanced in age. The organization also provides them with financial support and raises political and civic awareness of their plight as former comfort women.
The memorial park, which was built behind the House of Sharing in 2017, is also where the remains of nine women who died while living in the House of Sharing are laid to rest in urns. The most recent interment was that of Jeong Bok-soo, who at 99 years of age was the oldest surviving comfort woman at the time of her passing in February.
Jeong, who lived in the House of Sharing until her death, requested to be laid to rest at the memorial park.
However, the area of Tochon-myeon, where the House of Sharing is located, is designated as a waterfront area to preserve the water quality of the Han River. The designation prohibits interment or enshrinement in the area.
According to Gwangju municipal government, the Gyeonggi provincial public investigation unit confirmed the illegal establishment of the memorial park last year. Should the House of Sharing fail to comply with the order to relocate the park, members of the organization could be subject to one year in prison or a fine of up to 10 million won.
Jeong’s grandson cried during a phone interview with the JoongAng Ilbo over Gwangju city government’s order to the House of Sharing to relocate Jeong’s remains.
“This country let my grandmother be dragged off as a comfort woman, and now they want us to dig up her remains,” he said.
Although the remains of the deceased comfort women are enclosed in ceramic urns and stored in the memorial above ground level –– thus posing little risk of water or ground pollution –– Gwangju city government said the law on waterfronts did not allow for interpretations that might carve an exception for the park.
“As an administrative agency, we have no choice but to take measures according to the law. The law does not allow for exceptions,” said a Gwangju municipal official who requested anonymity.
BY MICHAEL LEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]