Monday, June 1, 2020

Never forget sexual slavery as part of Japan's WWII history

First posted in Asia Times

By Mike Honda, Lillian Sing and Julie Tang
“Comfort Women” is a euphemistic term for the hundreds of thousands of girls and women who were kidnapped and sexually enslaved by the Imperial Japanese Army during WWII. From 1931-1945, Japanese military forced young women from over 13 countries into sexual slavery for the “comfort” of Japanese soldiers. 
For the first time in 1991, a former Korean “comfort woman” victim, Hak Soon Kim overcame a lifetime of shame to speak up publicly about her personal experience of sexual enslavement by the Japanese Imperial Armed Forces. Her testimony shocked the world.  
This is the first time in modern history that a government is accused of systematic implementation sexual violence and sex trafficking.  Many more “comfort women” victims followed Hak Soon Kim’s courageous example and told their stories and experiences to the world.  
Their testimonies helped move the world community to declare that using sexual violence as a weapon of war constitutes a crime against humanity for which governments must be held accountable.    
In 2007 the United States Congress passed House Resolution 121 which urged the Japanese government to “formally acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner for its Imperial Armed Forces’ coercion of young women into sexual slavery.” 
The Japanese government heavily lobbied against the resolution, arguing it was a Japan-bashing propaganda, rather than an important human rights issue of institutional sexual violence against women during wartime.  
So that the atrocity these women suffered would not be forgotten, a multi-ethnic non-profit organization consisting of more than 38 organizations called “ComfortWomen” Justice Coalition (CWJC) was established in San Francisco in 2015 with the purpose to install a “comfort women” Memorial in US and to demand Justice for the “comfort women” victims.
Lee Yong-soo, a former “comfort woman” survivor from South Korea came to give the movements in the US a tremendous boost.  Grandma Lee, as Americans fondly called her, came and personally testified before the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 2015 in support of a resolution to allow a public memorial to be built in San Francisco as she did in 2007 before the United States Congress.  
Her testimonies were crucial in getting both the Resolutions successfully passed.  She put a real face to the issue, became the soul of the movement, and was the living testimony of what happened to the “comfort women” victims.   
Her message was that the history of the “comfort women” should not be forgotten, and the government of Japan must issue a sincere, unequivocal and legal apology and pay reparations to the “comfort women” victims.   Her goal was to educate the history of “comfort women” to the world.
On May 9th, 2020, Grandma Lee made news again.  She accused the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan (JDH) and its former head, Yoon Mi-hyang, of financial impropriety over funds that were donated for the benefit of the “comfort women” survivors.  
She also accused the organization of straying from the goals and purposes of the movement by focusing too much on demonstrations and not on education, especially for the Korean and Japanese youth
It is never easy to speak up when one sees wrongs and injustices.  Grandma Lee is very courageous to do so.  She has nothing to gain for doing this.  We understand the prosecutors in ROK are already conducting an investigation into the allegations.  We urge the investigation be full, and thorough without any political considerations.  
However, we are also concerned that Japan under Prime Minister Abe is attempting to use this financial irregularity to dishonor our righteous fight for justice for all “comfort women” victims and survivors.  
The media in Japan is reporting on the financial scandal in Korea as if to discredit the movement and argue that the Peace Monuments around the world should be dismantled.  
Japan to this date continues to deny its role in the “comfort women” atrocity, refuses to teach their young people the history of the “comfort women” and claims the issue has been resolved. 
The victims and the peace memorial communities continue to insist on a sincere and official apology from Japan, one that necessarily needs to be ratified by the Japanese Diet. 
Instead, Japan’s official efforts to block memorials from being built and objections to inclusion of “comfort women” documents into the UNESCO registry of records is admission that Japan is not ready to face history and atone for its war crimes against the “comfort women”.  
The grandmas who started this movement urged us to pursue justice and fight sexual exploitation everywhere.  Grandma Lee reminded us the job is still unfinished.  Let’s pay attention to her message and work in solidarity to restore justice and honor for the “comfort women” victims and survivors. 
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Mike Honda is a former Congressman from California and author of HR 121, 2007. Judges Lillian Sing and Julie Tang are both retired judges from San Francisco who retired to build the San Francisco “Comfort Women” Memorial and have co-chaired the “Comfort Women” Justice Coalition since 2015 

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