South Korean victims of wartime sexual slavery say fight not over


Kang Il-chul was 16-years-old when Japanese army police arrived at her house in Sangju, a city in South Korea, and took her away to China. “I was kept inside a small room and was forced to sleep with 10 to 20 soldiers a day,” she says. “The Japanese took everything; everything that was valuable to us, even rice. Rice was valuable at that time because we didn’t have enough food. They destroyed everything.”

Kang, 92, sits in a single nook of the lounge inside her house situated throughout the complicated of ‘The House of Sharing’, making an attempt to place collectively items of a puzzle, her brief curly hair a halo round her head, extra salt than pepper. For no less than 20 years, she has repeated her story extra occasions than she will bear in mind.

Kang Il-Chul is among the many 16 South Korean survivors, and one of the 5 presently residing within the ‘House of Sharing’. She is pictured right here in her lounge in {a photograph} from October 2019. (Express Photo: Neha Banka)

The ‘House of Sharing’, situated down a slender winding lane in South Korea’s Gyeonggi province, is a shelter and museum based in 1992, for girls who had been subjected to sexual slavery by the Japanese army through the Second World War. Kang is among the many 1000’s of women and girls throughout the Asia-Pacific who had been pressured to work as “comfort women” in brothels for Japan’s Imperial Army from the early 1930s until the tip of the Second World War, in territories occupied by Japan.

This side of the struggle years had been hidden until a South Korean survivor got here ahead within the early 1990s, prompting others to talk extra brazenly about their experiences and search accountability. Today, solely 16 South Korean survivors stay, with 5 presently residing on the ‘House of Sharing’.

Portraits of “comfort women” are exhibited within the ‘House of Sharing’ in Gyeonggi province, South Korea. (Express Photo: Neha Banka)

This week, on January 8, a Seoul court docket dominated that Japan was liable to pay compensation for wartime sexual slavery, and ordered the Japanese authorities to offer 100 million received (roughly $91,340) to every sufferer.

According to a Kyodo News report, Japan summoned South Korea’s Ambassador Nam Gwan-pyo and lodged a protest over the court docket ruling, whereas Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga referred to as the choice “utterly unacceptable”. This ruling is more likely to irritate disputes between Seoul and Tokyo.

South Korea’s historic reminiscence of Japanese colonial rule that lasted for 35 years, from 1910-1945, stays a degree of intense battle between Seoul and Tokyo, and continues to affect nationalist sentiments, home politics and overseas coverage. While Friday’s ruling could also be welcome information, it’s of little consolation to survivors like Kang. “We want the people to know what the Japanese did to us. We demand an apology and legal compensation from the Japanese government”, she says slowly, her age impacting her speech. Slightly over a yr after Kang sat for this interview with, her sentiments have not modified.

Since 1992, a number of Japanese leaders have issued official apologies, however in lots of situations have additionally adopted up with statements questioning the credibility of the ladies’s testimonies. In the previous, Japan’s Prime Minister Junichi Koizumi and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have additionally been recorded making dismissive and inflammatory feedback on the topic.

94-year-old Lee Ok-seon sits in her bed room contained in the ‘House of Sharing’ in Gyeonggi province, South Korea. She was 14-years-old when she was pressured into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army. This {photograph} was taken in October 2019. (Express Photo: Neha Banka)

Temperatures have fallen in South Korea and 94-year-old Lee Ok-seon, sits on a slender mattress contained in the ‘House of Sharing’, carrying an embroidered brown sweater. “I was kidnapped from Ulsan and taken to China. I was forced to become a sex slave by Japanese soldiers.” Lee was simply 14-years-old at the moment. Even after the camps had been liberated after the tip of the Second World War, Lee remained in China. It can be one other 5 a long time until she noticed her homeland once more. 

“I returned to Korea on 1st June, 2000,” Lee says. “I’ve had a good memory since birth,” she says with fun. Some eight a long time have handed for the reason that day she was placed on a practice to China by Japanese troopers, however some reminiscences are vivid. “It was hard. Receiving the soldiers was the most difficult thing for me.”

“I told the soldiers to let me go home, but they did not listen. I did not know what a ‘comfort woman’ did or what a ‘comfort station’ was. When I found out, I wanted to die.”

Lee says she was pressured to supply sexual companies to 10 to 15 males every day for 3 years until she was rescued in 1945, by which era she had misplaced rely of the quantity of males who had subjected her to sexual violence. After the struggle resulted in 1945, Lee needed to return house, however discovered that she couldn’t. “I thought that something like a signboard with the words ‘comfort woman’ was hanging over my head and I was ashamed of myself. I did not have any face to show my family.” With nowhere else to go, she remained in China.

{A photograph} displaying a “comfort station” in downtown Malacca, Malaysia, from an exhibit at ‘The House of Sharing’. (Photo credit score: Hirofumi Hayashi/The House of Sharing/Express Photo: Neha Banka)

In 2015, South Korea underneath the Park Geun-hye authorities, got here to an settlement to “settle” the long-standing difficulty of “comfort women”. Under the clauses of this settlement, Japan would give 1 billion yen to a fund for the “comfort women” to be administered by the South Korean authorities. Japan’s then prime minister Shinzo Abe had additionally issued an apology, accepting “deep responsibility” for the problem.

At that point, South Korea had mentioned that underneath the clauses of the settlement, it might take into account the matter resolved “finally and irreversibly” if Japan had been to satisfy its guarantees. In addition, South Korea promised to look into eradicating a statue symbolising “comfort women”, which had been erected by activists outdoors the Japanese embassy in central Seoul in 2011. Both sides had additionally agreed to chorus from criticising one another within the worldwide group on this difficulty.

Following the signing of the settlement, former president Park Geun-hye confronted fierce criticism in South Korea for accepting the clauses that many mentioned had been offensive, together with accusations from some lawmakers who referred to as it a “traitorous” deal. This 2015 settlement nonetheless distresses Lee, who believes that the South Korean authorities unilaterally made choices, prioritising its personal pursuits, with out consulting the surviving “comfort women” within the nation. “It is not only the Japanese government, the Korean government is also responsible for this,” she says of the 2015 settlement.

“It was a deeply flawed agreement as what is essentially a matter of crime against humanity in principle (but without legal application to actions taken in the 1930s and 1940s) and must be remembered and discussed in perpetuity,” says Lee Sung-yoon, Kim Koo-Korea Foundation Professor in Korean Studies and Assistant Professor, The Fletcher School, Tufts University.

But this week’s ruling, he says, “is largely political— a stratagem for the South Korean government to score political points by appealing to ethnonationalism and a sense of justice.” Professor Lee believes that from a authorized perspective, the ruling could set a brand new precedent for a violation of worldwide agreements and treaties. He factors to the treaty of 1965 between Japan and South Korea that addressed the settlement of points in regard to property, claims and points of what it termed “economic cooperation”. Through the terminology used within the treaty, Japan had made it clear that it was not providing reparations.

Kang Il-chul describes her experiences in a “comfort station” in China the place she was stored by the Japanese Imperial Army, throughout an interview in October 2019. (Express Photo: Neha Banka)

According to clauses of this treaty, all points between the 2 international locations that had been a consequence of Japan’s colonisation and the Second World War had “been settled finally and completely”. But eldery survivors of Japan’s wartime sexual slavery and compelled labour have been pursuing impartial claims via authorized programs for years, usually aided by rights teams. In 2017, survivors and the rights teams obtained an sudden enhance after South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in took workplace and brazenly expressed assist for his or her endeavours.

In 2018, South Korea’s Supreme Court dominated in favour of South Koreans looking for compensation from Japan’s Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal over the problem of being subjected to pressured labor throughout Japanese colonial rule. A number of months after this ruling, in a separate lawsuit, the Supreme Court ordered Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to compensate 10 South Korean nationals for being pressured to construct ships and plane for Japan’s struggle ambitions in 1944.

Japan rejected these rulings, issuing sharp criticism, as a result of from Tokyo’s perspective, Professor Lee explains, it seems that these lawsuits filed in opposition to the Japanese authorities and organisations had been construed as having violated “the norms of state sovereign immunity but also a breach of basic trust in the bilateral relationship”.

Kang Il-chul walks again to her room inside ‘The House of Sharing’, in Gyeonggi province, South Korea, after this interview in October 2019. (Express Photo: Neha Banka)

During the 2018 ruling, South Korea’s Supreme Court had rejected the argument that the treaty of 1965 had put an finish to the matter. “The treaty does not cover the right of the victims of forced labor to compensation for crimes against humanity committed by a Japanese company in direct connection with the Japanese government’s illegal colonial rule and war of aggression against the Korean Peninsula,” the court docket had mentioned in an announcement.

In a weblog submit in 2020 for ‘Origins’, revealed by the Ohio State University and Miami University, Professor Lee had argued that the South Korean Supreme Court’s argument was “weak” as a result of “the 1965 treaty predates the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) per the Rome Statute in 1998.”

“My point is that South Korea does not have jurisdiction over Japanese companies or the Japanese government for actions that happened before 1945,” he explains. “Ex post facto criminalization of the Japanese state’s offenses, as cathartic and just in principle as it may be, is a faulty legal argument. Imperialism and colonization are always exploitative. They are always cruel. But reconciliation and atonement must come from historical writing, public discourse, cultural contact, foreign aid, etc., not by formal government reparations.”

Following the Seoul court docket’s newest ruling, whereas in principle, the South Korean authorities may proceed and seize any Japanese property inside its territorial jurisdiction, as an example, the Japanese embassy and the Japanese Cultural Center in Seoul and the Japanese consulate in Busan, Professor Lee believes that such strikes “would amount to a salvo to breaking off the diplomatic relationship.” The impression would have wider implications for South Korean politics and financial system and can be dangers that the Moon administration might not be prepared to take.

{A photograph} displaying a construction used as a “comfort station” for coal miners in Chikuho, Kyushu, Japan, from an exhibit at ‘The House of Sharing’. (Photo credit score: Rumiko Nishino/The House of Sharing/Express Photo: Neha Banka)

The legacy of Japanese colonisation is at all times within the background in the case of geopolitics in East Asia, however particularly within the case of South Korea and Japan, with each side unvaryingly accusing the opposite of deliberate provocation. In 2013 when Shinzo Abe made visits to the Yasukuni shrine, a controversial struggle memorial which honours Japan’s struggle lifeless, but in addition 14 convicted struggle criminals, each China and South Korea issued sturdy objections. In 2020, days after Abe stepped down as prime minister, he made one more public go to to the shrine, one which was sharply criticised by North Korea. Seoul, Beijing and Pyongyang have thought-about these visits by Japanese leaders a present of a scarcity of regret for Japan’s colonial brutality and struggle crimes through the Second World War.

The fierce public backlash to the 2015 settlement additionally prevented the South Korean authorities from eradicating the bronze statue symbolising “comfort women”, which had been erected by activists outdoors the Japanese embassy in central Seoul in 2011. Every Wednesday since 1992, a small group of protestors collect outdoors the embassy, calling for accountability and justice, in what they name the ‘Wednesday Demonstrations’.

At a ‘Wednesday Demonstration’ going down outdoors the Japanese embassy in central Seoul, South Korea, a protestor cleans the face of the statue symbolising “comfort women” in October 2019. (Express Photo: Neha Banka)

Two days after the 2015 settlement was signed, a bunch referred to as the “Anti-Abe and Anti-Japan Joint Action” arrange a small tent simply beside the bronze statue, and has been sitting in everlasting protest outdoors the Japanese embassy, with volunteers manning the tent around the clock, regardless of climate situations. Protecting the embassy are a number of buses belonging to the town police and a dozen policemen on each side of the road.

On a chilly Autumn morning in Seoul, two 20-year-old ladies sit, huddled in lengthy puffy coats, with their tent having been unexpectedly taken down. The bronze statue close by is wrapped in a thick pink scarf, with a bunch of white flowers positioned close to its toes.

Two younger ladies belonging to a bunch referred to as “Anti-Abe and Anti-Japan Joint Action” sit in protest outdoors the Japanese embassy in central Seoul, South Korea in October 2019, after their tent was taken down by the native district workplace. (Express Photo: Neha Banka)

The tent is down, they clarify, as a result of they had been pressured to take action by the native Jongno District workplace, however the metropolis authorities was unable to take away the ladies from the protest website. “We are fighting with the Japanese embassy. It’s difficult but we can do it. We see the embassy everyday,” says one girl, each requesting anonymity.

The Seoul metropolis authorities’s makes an attempt to take away the protest website shouldn’t come as a shock, Professor Lee says. “(President) Moon seeks to mend fences with Tokyo and use the Summer Olympics as a stage for a summit meeting with Kim Jong Un. While Kim is unlikely to show up in Tokyo as one among many, that has been the main incentive for Seoul’s de-escalation in recent months.”

The statue symbolising “comfort women” sits dealing with the Japanese embassy in central Seoul. (Express Photo: Neha Banka)

It can be complicated home politics at play: “when anti-Japanese stance is prescribed, the lower officials follow. When the mood swings the other way, the lower officials are quick to catch on and discourage anti-Japanese protests by civic groups.” Following the coronavirus outbreak in 2020, the town authorities seems to have cleared the tent citing public well being protocols, however the protestors have continued demonstrating on the website outdoors the embassy.

{A photograph} displaying the doorway to a “”consolation station” for the Japanese army in Nanking, China, from an exhibit at ‘The House of Sharing’. (Photo credit score: Testuo Yamatani/The House of Sharing/Express Photo: Neha Banka)

Over the previous 20 years, Lee has travelled world wide, taking her story, to lift extra consciousness of the wartime sexual slavery and violence that she and numerous different women and girls had been subjected to. The museum on the ‘House of Sharing’ has intensive archives of pictures, recorded testimonies, manuscripts, and many others. that doc the struggle years and the ladies’s experiences.

Some survivors who had retained objects from their time within the Japanese army camps later donated them to the ‘House of Sharing’ and different related establishments for analysis and archival functions. When requested about whether or not she did one thing related, Lee laughs: “No, I only have oral testimonies as evidence.”

Suddenly, her voice cracks. “Of course it is very hard. It is still hard to make a testimony in public. Although so much time has passed, I was just a 14-year-old girl (then). I still feel pain when I remember that time.”

Demonstrators at a rally outdoors the Japanese Embassy in Seoul in June gathered round a statue symbolizing a girl pressured into wartime sexual slavery. (Credit: Jeon Heon-Kyun/EPA, through Shutterstock/The New York Times)

Staff members on the ‘House of Sharing’ have helped Lee preserve monitor of Friday’s Supreme Court judgement and the next developments. “I am not satisfied with the order unfortunately, because what we are demanding from Japan is not only compensation, but also an apology. Our fight for justice is not finished yet,” she says.

“Please help me get justice from Japan.”

(Editorial observe: Interviews with survivors and protesters had been performed in Seoul and in Gyeonggi province, South Korea, in October 2019. Lee Ok-seon additionally supplied an announcement following the January 2021 court docket ruling.)


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