Lee Yong-soo urges 'comfort women' issue be taken to UN committee

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Lee Yong-soo urges 'comfort women' issue be taken to UN committee

Song Young-gil, chairman of the ruling Democratic Party (DP), pushes Lee Yong-soo, a Japanese wartime sexual slavery survivor, in a wheelchair following their meeting at the National Assembly in western Seoul Tuesday. [YONHAP]

Song Young-gil, chairman of the ruling Democratic Party (DP), pushes Lee Yong-soo, a Japanese wartime sexual slavery survivor, in a wheelchair following their meeting at the National Assembly in western Seoul Tuesday. [YONHAP]

 
Lee Yong-soo, a "comfort woman" survivor, met with leaders of ruling and opposition parties and urged that the Japanese military’s wartime sexual slavery issue be resolved through the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT).
 
On Tuesday, 92-year-old Lee visited the National Assembly in western Seoul and held talks with ruling Democratic Party Chairman Song Yong-gil, after meeting with leaders of opposition parties over the past several days.
 
Lee, a longtime rights activist, has called for Japan to be held accountable for its wartime atrocities and also advocated the referral of the issue of the Imperial Japanese Army's forced recruitment of young women and girls into sexual slavery before and during World War II to The Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ).
 
Song told reporters after his private meeting with Lee, "In order to file a complaint with the ICJ, the Japanese government has to agree, but such consent is not being obtained.”
 
The DP chief said that they discussed ways to resolve the wartime sexual slavery and said he will convey Lee's position to the government.
 
Lee in a press conference in February called to refer the wartime sexual slavery issue to the ICJ. She also formed a committee pushing for the referral of the comfort women issue to the international court.
 
However, the movement faced a roadblock in that an ICJ referral would require consent from both the Korean and Japanese governments.
 
On Oct. 26, Lee held another press conference urging the Korean government to resolve the issue through the CAT after facing difficulties referring it to the ICJ.
 
The Geneva-based CAT is a body of 10 independent human rights experts that monitors the implementation of the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment which went into effect in 1987. South Korea ratified the convention in 1995 and Japan in 1999.
 
Unlike an ICJ referral, the Korean government doesn’t need consent from Japan to bring the case to the CAT.
 
Lee urged the DP to take steps so that the Korean government can refer to the issue to the CAT. She also requested that DP presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung include swiftly resolving the comfort women issue in his campaign pledge.
 
On Monday, Lee met Kim Gi-hyeon, floor leader of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP), making a similar call to bring the issue to the UN committee, and Rep. Lee said he will review her request positively. She met with Kwon Eun-hee, floor leader of the minor opposition People's Party, on the same day.  
 
Lee Yong-soo, right, a comfort woman survivor, speaks with Rep. Kim Gi-hyeon, floor leader of the main opposition People Power Party, at the National Assembly in western Seoul Monday. [YONHAP]

Lee Yong-soo, right, a comfort woman survivor, speaks with Rep. Kim Gi-hyeon, floor leader of the main opposition People Power Party, at the National Assembly in western Seoul Monday. [YONHAP]

Last Friday, Lee Yong-soo also met with the Justice Party's presidential candidate Sim Sang-jung, who said that she will push for a National Assembly resolution and also persuade the government to pursue the issue. Sim noted that the government may be passive, taking into consideration the bilateral relations between Korea and Japan, but said that “diplomatic and historical issues should be pursued separately.”
 
Lee is one of just 13 surviving registered comfort women victims.
 
Seoul and Tokyo under previous administrations attempted to resolve the wartime slavery issue in a deal signed on Dec. 26, 2015, which included an apology by the Japanese government and a 1-billion-yen ($9 million) fund for the victims.
 
Some civic organizations and survivors felt blindsided by the deal and demanded the Japanese government take clearer legal responsibility. The Moon Jae-in administration said it would not scrap the 2015 bilateral deal, despite it being “flawed,” but has also underscored that the agreement is not a true resolution of the issue.
 
New Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida was foreign minister at the time of the signing of the so-called comfort women agreement.
 
The Seoul Central District Court ruled on Jan. 8 that the Japanese government individually compensate a dozen women who were forced into wartime sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II, rejecting Tokyo’s claims of state immunity, saying Japan had committed systemic crimes against humanity in violation of international standards and norms. Japan protested the ruling.

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