Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Korea raises 'comfort women' issue at UN

Korea demanded that Japan take “legal responsibility” for Korean women coerced to provide sex services to Japanese soldiers during World War II at a United Nations’ meeting in New York, officials said Wednesday.

“This systematic rape and sexual slavery constitute war crimes and also, under defined circumstances, crimes against humanity,” Shin Dong-ik, Korea’s deputy chief envoy to the U.N., told the Third Committee of the U.N. General Assembly, one of the six U.N. committees specializing in human rights and social affairs.

Shin urged participants in the meeting to educate their citizens about the heinous crimes against women during wartime in order to prevent the recurrence of such organized sexual assaults.

This is the first time in 14 years that a Korean diplomat has raised the issue at the committee, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said. Korea has raised the issue at the less-influential U.N. Human Rights Council each year since 1992, it added.

“It’s quite meaningful that we raised the issue at the U.N. committee although it will not bring about any U.N-level actions to resolve it,” a foreign ministry official said.

The move came after the Constitutional Court ruled in August that it was against the Constitution for the government to take no specific action to settle the dispute with Tokyo over its refusal to compensate the victims. Japan ruled the Korean Peninsula as a colony from 1910 to 1945.

Following the ruling, the foreign ministry established a task force to handle the issue. It has also pressed its Japanese counterpart to accept the proposal of holding a bilateral meeting to discuss the matter, to which Japan has refused.

In response to Shin’s demand, a Japanese representative at the meeting said Japan had acknowledged that its wartime military used sex slaves, euphemistically called “comfort women,” and expressed remorse for it. Nevertheless, the envoy insisted all compensations for victims were settled by a 1965 compensation package, which the two countries agreed on while normalizing diplomatic relations. Korea reportedly received $300 million from Japan in the deal.

In reaction, Korean Minister Kim Soo-kwon refuted the allegation, saying Japan’s liability for compensation has not been cleared, citing reports from the U.N. and other institutes.

The issue will likely be discussed during a summit between President Lee Myung-bak and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on Oct. 19 in Seoul. But it’s very unlikely to be settled in the near future, experts said.

In a preparatory meeting for the summit last week, Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba reiterated Japan’s stance of refusing to directly compensate victims, arguing that the issue was settled by the 1965 deal.

Up to 200,000 women, mostly Koreans, were forced into sexual servitude at frontline Japanese brothels during World War II. Only a handful of former sex slaves here survive.

They stage a rally every Wednesday in front of the Japanese Embassy in downtown Seoul, urging Tokyo to apologize for the inhumane activity and offer proper compensation. The 1,000th rally will take place on Dec. 14. Participants plan to erect a memorial stone in front of the embassy on that date.

Source: The Korea Times

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