'Comfort woman' survivor hospitalized after incident at National Assembly
Lee Yong-soo, a victim of Japan's wartime sexual slavery in her 90s, was reportedly pulled out of her wheelchair by security guards while she was waiting to meet with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the National Assembly grounds on Thursday.
A video released after the incident by media outlets including JTBC and YTN shows Lee on the ground by her wheelchair, while several security personnel attempt to lift her.
One security guard can be heard repeating, “Lift up her leg,” while Lee, in apparent protest, says, “Let go of me, you’re going to kill someone here.”
At one point, the footage shows at least three security guards pulling on her arms and legs at the same time.
Lee was hospitalized afterward at the Catholic University of Korea Yeouido St. Mary's Hospital in western Seoul.
A committee that she heads, which has been calling for the Korean and Japanese governments to settle the "comfort women" issue at the International Court of Justice, told the press that the security guards tried to move her despite her protest and that Lee fell out of her wheelchair in the process.
“They pulled on her by her legs,” the committee said. “It was a traumatic experience for her.”
The National Assembly Secretariat in a statement on Friday said that it "wishes well" for Lee's health, adding however that "any attempt to meet up with an international guest at the Assembly without prior appointment is a disregard for diplomatic protocols.
"Attempts were made to guide Lee, who occupied the venue without permission, out of the venue for reasons of protocol and security," the secretariat said.
It said the secretary general of the National Assembly and the chiefs of protocols and security of the Assembly visited Lee in hospital to convey words of consolation in person.
Lee was reportedly waiting at the National Assembly to try and speak with Pelosi and her delegation, who were at the time meeting with Assembly Speaker Kim Jin-pyo. It was her second attempt to try to meet Pelosi during the speaker's visit to Seoul. Lee previously waited outside a hotel that Pelosi was staying at on Wednesday night, in the hopes of asking the congresswoman for support for comfort women victims.
When the U.S. House passed a resolution in July 2007 calling for Japan to formally acknowledge and apologize for its military’s sexual slavery of young women during its occupation of Asia and the Pacific Islands during World War II, Pelosi issued a statement in support of the resolution.
Pelosi mentioned the issue again during her meeting with Speaker Kim on Thursday and the joint press conference afterward.
“In our previous visit [to Korea] in 2015, we were able to take pride in passing the legislation in the Congress relating to comfort women legislation,” she said in the joint press meeting with Kim at the Assembly on Thursday.
Congress passed a spending bill for 2014 that asked the secretary of state to encourage the Japanese government to address issues regarding the comfort women survivors, based on the 2007 resolution.
The comfort women issue, including a Korea-Japan agreement reached in 2015, has been an unresolved thorn in Seoul-Tokyo relations for years.
Seoul and Tokyo attempted to resolve the wartime slavery issue in a “final and irreversible” deal signed on Dec. 26, 2015, which included an apology by the Japanese government and a 1-billion-yen ($7.5 million) fund for the victims.
Some civic organizations and survivors, including Lee, felt blindsided by the deal and demanded the Japanese government take clearer legal responsibility.
The Seoul Central District Court ruled on Jan. 8, 2021, that the Japanese government must pay 100 million won ($77,085) each to 12 women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II.
In the ruling, the Seoul district court rejected Tokyo’s claims of state immunity, saying Japan had committed systemic crimes against humanity in violation of international standards and norms.
Japan immediately protested the ruling.
Lee, a longtime rights activist, has called for Japan to be held accountable for its wartime atrocities, advocating a 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) or the United Nations Committee Against Torture.
Lee has faced difficulties referring the comfort women issue to the ICJ, which requires consent from both the Korean and Japanese governments.
BY ESTHER CHUNG [email@example.com]