At the end of World War II, an estimated 200,000 South Korean women were forced by the Imperial Japanese Army to work in brothels as “comfort women,” a euphemized term for sexual slavery, for the Japanese military. On Monday, South Korea accepted Japan’s reconciliatory apology and offer to contribute 1 billion yen ($8.3 million) to a victims’ fund.
Of the women who were forced into sexual slavery, only 46 remain alive in South Korea.
At a joint press conference, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said that as long as Japan held up its side of the deal, the issue would be considered “irreversibly” resolved. The two countries will also “refrain from criticizing and blaming each other in the international society, including the United Nations,” he continued.
“The issue of ‘comfort women’ was a matter which, with the involvement of the military authorities of the day, severely injured the honor and dignity of many women,” said Japan’s foreign minister Fumio Kishida in the press conference. “In this regard, the government of Japan painfully acknowledges responsibility.”
“Our job was to revitalize the soldiers,” said Kim Bok-dong, who was 14 years old when she was forced to work at a “comfort station,” in an interview with CNN. “On Saturdays, they would start lining up at noon. And it would last until 8 p.m.”
“There are no words to describe my suffering. Even now. I can’t live without medicine. I’m always in pain.”
The New York Times reports:
Although Japan had previously apologized, including in a 1993 statement that acknowledged responsibility for the practice, the agreement on Monday signaled a compromise for Mr. Abe.
As recently as last year, under pressure from his right wing to scrap the apology, Mr. Abe and his conservative political allies agreed to review the evidence that led to it.
Under the agreement, the Japanese government will give the $8.3 million to a foundation that the South Korean government will establish to offer medical, nursing and other services to the women.
While the country helped establish the Asian Women’s Fund in 1995, the government never directly compensated the victims until now, which was viewed as a reluctance to officially accept responsibility.
Times reporter Alex Burns pointed out that the $8.3 million is actually pretty paltry for what it is.
Specifically, since 2009, the NYPD has paid over $428 million on civil rights-related settlements, making the yearly cost just under $100 million.
Some are skeptical of the agreement’s significance. “Even though the Japanese government revealed they feel strongly of their responsibility, it is hard to find the fact that the Japanese military’s ‘comfort women’ crime is systemically self-organized by Japanese government and the military in this agreement,” said the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan’s War & Women’s Human Rights Museum, according to CNN.
“Japan and South Korea are now entering a new era,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said to reporters after calling South Korean President Park Geun-hye to personally apologize. “We should not drag this problem into the next generation.”
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