No discussion with the victims, no settlement! We never begged for money!
The 12.28 KOR-JPN Agreement on the “Comfort Women” issue, made victims’ 25-year efforts for a resolution useless. Japanese military sexual slavery victim-survivor Bok-dong Kim, and the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, attended the 32nd UN Human Rights Council to inform the international community of the injustices of the 12.28 Agreement
On December 28, 2015, the foreign ministers of the Republic of Korea and Japan announced the two governments reached an agreement on the issue of Japanese “comfort women”, “finally and irreversibly”, at a joint press conference. This agreement has been condemned by the international community as it does not reflect the demands of the victims, nor human rights principles. The language of the agreement is evasive: Japan’s legal responsibilities are not mentioned, and thereby the agreement offers de facto impunity to the Japanese government for their war crimes and human rights violations.
After the agreement was announced, Prime Minister Abe, in official capacity, denied coercion existed in the “comfort women” system. He went on to say he will never mention the “comfort women” issue again in relation to Korea, nor apologize anymore. The Korean government did not directly respond to the disparaging statements. Instead, the ROK moved to establish a foundation in the name of the victims, and agreed to demolish the Peace Monument (Statue of a Girl)— in opposition to the victims’ demands— to betray the victims twice in one swift gesture.
Ms. Bok-dong Kim, a victim-survivor of Japanese military sexual slavery, and members of the Korean Council for the Women Drafted by Military Sexual Slavery by Japan (“the Korean Council”) have worked together for the last 25 years, to fight for the victims of Japanese military sexual slavery. They are on another long journey to the UN Office at Geneva, to, once again, try to resolve the issue that has caused so many years of suffering and indignation.
On the morning of June 15, Ms. Bok-dong Kim and the Korean Council met for the first time with Ms. Simonovich, UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women. The 91 year-old victim-survivor told her painful memories of being a sex slave, locked up in a “comfort station”, forced, every day, to deal with the many soldiers at the door of her cell, during wartime, and completely against her will.
At 14, she was told her she would be sent to a factory to work. Instead of a factory, she was taken to a warzone in Taiwan, then sent to wherever Japanese military bases were located: Guangdong, Hong Kong, Malaysia, India, Sumatra, Java, and Singapore. She finally returned home when she was 22, 8 years after she was taken away, when Japan lost the war. She could not share her story with anyone but her own family. In 1992, she reported herself as a victim of Japanese military sexual slavery, for the other girls who were taken away with her at that time, who have not been discovered until now, who could not come back home with her. She emphasized, she has been fighting 25 years for justice, to restore the victims’ honor and dignity, not for money. What she demands, specifically, is a sincere apology and reparations from the Japanese government, both based on a legally binding admission from them of their responsibility for war crimes. It is the only way justice can be served.
Ms. Mee-hyang Yoon, Representative of the Korean Council, continued after Ms. Kim. Representative Yoon said, the 12.28 KOR-JPN agreement on the “comfort women” issue does not reflect the demands of the victims at all. The reality of the military sexual slavery system was never described in the agreement. The Japanese government only recognized involvement in the “comfort women” issue, with no admission of the truth, that the Japanese government planned, established, managed, and controlled the “comfort women” system as a military facility during war. In the agreement, Japan does say it “feels responsible”, but it is not clear what the Japanese government “feels responsible” for, since all specific details and any mention of human rights violations or serious war crimes are absent.
A different but related issue, which the governments of Korea and Japan agreed to resolve, appropriately, is that of the Peace Monument, which has its place in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul. Japanese government officials, including Foreign Minister Kishida, have stated that removing the Peace Monument is a prerequisite to the resolution of the “comfort women” issue. Since the agreement was announced in December, 2015, college students have voluntarily come out to the street, to protect the Peace Monument from removal. They keep watch 24 hours per day, and are there now.
In regards to the foundation established by the agreement (ostensibly for the support and welfare of the victim-survivors) Ms. Kim and Representative Yoon said the victims and the Korean Council, who have been united in this struggle for the last 25 years, were completely excluded. The foundation is funded from the Japanese government’s budget (10 billion yen). The foundation’s members have been picked by the Korean government, who Ms. Kim and Rep. Yoon criticized as irrelevant to their fight.
Special Rapporteur Simonovich expressed appreciation to Ms. Kim and Representative Yoon for visiting her and sharing their brave stories. She recommended documenting victims’ testimonies from other countries, which she considers a victim-centered approach.
The Korean Council urged the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women to consider speaking out in favor of the “comfort women”, to restore their dignity and legal justice by correct punishment of the perpetrator, rather than a realistic compromise.
Ms. Bok-dong Kim (left), the victim-survivor of Japanese military “comfort women” issue and a human rights activist, and Mr. Kyonglim Choi, President of the UN Human Rights Council. (Photo by the Korean Council)
In the afternoon of the same day, Ms. Bok-dong Kim and the Korean Council met Mr. Kyonglim Choi, President of the UN Human Rights Council, to raise to him the problems of the 12.28 KOR-JPN agreement. Ms. Kim implored President Choi to convey the victims’ message to the governments of Korea and Japan as the President of the UN Human Rights Council, rather than in the role of a government official working on behalf of the Republic of Korea.
President Choi expressed appreciation to Ms. Bok-dong Kim and the Korean Council for making a long trip to deliver the victims’ message. He said he’ll try to convey the demands of the victims to the governments of Korea and Japan.
Mr. Kyonglim Choi, President of the UN Human Rights Council (left), received a small Peace Monument, a replica of Peace Monument, by Ms. Bok-dong Kim. Ms. Kim also put the butterfly badge, a symbol of wishes of the “comfort women” victims, on Mr. Choi’s collar. (Photo by the Korean Council)
On June 16, 2016, Ms. Bok-dong Kim and the Korean Council had a meeting with Mr. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Mr. Zeid met once before with the victim-survivors in March, 2015, at the War and Women’s Human Rights Museum in Seoul. High Commissioner Zeid delightedly welcomed his guests who came all the way from Korea, saying, their visit “shined through the cloudy morning in Geneva”. Ms. Kim gave her thanks then addressed her concerns. The Korean Council then described the recent attacks they faced from the Korean government since the agreement.
Mr. Zeid (right), The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said, “I will continue to raise the issue of the Japanese military sexual slavery, until this issue is resolved properly”, and Ms. Bok-dong Kim (left), who attended the UN Human Rights Council to inform of injustice of the 12.28 agreement. (Photo by the Korean Council)
High Commissioner Zeid told his guests that he felt the three victim-survivors, who he met with at the last visit in Seoul, seemed like his mother, so he tried to be a good son by conveying their message to the Korean government and the UN. When he met with President Park, Geun-hye he brought up his concerns regarding the agreement in the direct conversation. And at the 31st session of the UN Human Rights Council, he did describe what the “comfort women” victim-survivors were facing (1).
He also mentioned that he is invited to Japan in a few weeks, so he will try to meet with Prime Minister Abe and raise the problems of the agreement. He will visit Congo soon, and he will deliver the message of solidarity of the Korean “comfort women” victims to the victims of sexual violence in the Congo. Lastly, he expressed deep concerns on the threatening situation that Korean activists are in, including the Korean Council, and promised to stay in touch with the victim-survivors and the Korean Council to continue to quickly resolve the issue.
Ms. Angela Lytle (middle), Director of the Women’s Human Rights Institute of the University of Toronto, the UN Working Group on the Discrimination Against Women in Law and in Practice (right), Ms. Bok-dong Kim (left), Representative Yoon of the Korean Council (left), discussing injustice of the 12.28 agreement and defamation against the Korean Council after the agreement. (Photo by the Korean Council)
Right after leaving the meeting with UN High Commissioner Zeid, Ms. Kim and the Korean Council discussed the issue with Ms. Angela Lytle, Director of the Women’s Human Rights Institute of the University of Toronto. Ms. Lytle has been working with the Korean Council on the issue for years. The Korean government is enacting the terms of the agreement, despite the victim-survivors’ refusal, they told her. The foundation, the removal of the Peace Monument, the attacks on the Council, and the systematic attempt to get the victim-survivors to give in to the bilateral KOR-JPN agreement.
Representative Yoon explained the revenge and intimidation tactics the Korean Council, including herself, faced from the Korean government: Crowds of picketers with blown up pictures of representative Yoon and other members of the Korean Council, looking unflattering and hateful, and signs slandering the Korean Council as a subversive group controlled by North Korea; flyers with details about representative Yoon and her family spread out at Seoul Station and Gwanghwamun, where thousands of people walk by everyday; the recent attack on the Peace Monument by someone who confessed she was being paid by a government official from the Blue House for the attack.
She said, considering the number of people gathered, the volume of protests, the distribution of personal details, it is hard to imagine that this systematic attack was organized by a civilian. Added to this, she and the Korean Council are demonized by media and rightwing organizations in Japan. Japanese mainstream outlets, such as NHK and Fuji TV, often show representative Yoon’s face close-up and looking hateful when they report on Korean news, even when irrelevant to the “comfort women” issue. She concluded, the situation described should be considered as serious violations of human rights, right to free speech, and right to privacy of activists.
The Working Group made a pledge to cooperate with the Korean Council, to inform the international community of injustice of the 12.28 agreement, and to use a special procedure of the UN Human Rights Council to address systematic protection of the human rights of activists.
Panels for the 32nd UN Human Rights Council Session NGO Side Event: The Right to a Remedy and Justice for Survivors of Japanese Military Sexual Slavery. (from the left) Ms. Angela Lytle, Director of the Women’s Human Rights Institute of the University of Toronto, Ms. Frances Raday, Chair of the UN Working Group on the Issue of Discrimination Against Women in Law and in Practice, Ms. Bok-dong Kim, Representative Yoon of the Korean Council. (Photo by the Korean Council)
On June 17, 2015, Ms. Bok-dong Kim and the Korean Council were panels for a NGO Side Event along with Ms. Angela Lytle, and Ms. Frances Raday, Chair of the UN Working Group on the Issue of Discrimination Against Women in Law and in Practice.
After Side Event on “The Right to a Remedy and Justice for Survivors of Japanese Military Sexual Slavery” at the 32nd UN Human Rights Council Session, (from left) Ms. Bok-dong Kim, Korean-English interpreter, Official of the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the United Nations Office, Representative Yoon of the Korean Council. (Photo by the Korean Council)
After Side Event on “The Right to a Remedy and Justice for Survivors of Japanese Military Sexual Slavery” at the 32nd UN Human Rights Council Session, (from left) Korean-English interpreter, Ms. Bok-dong Kim, government official of Canada to the United Nations Office, Representative Yoon of the Korean Council. (Photo by the Korean Council)
They presented their claims, this time to an audience of around 70 international representatives. The government officials from Switzerland, Canada, and China said they had not been fully aware of the way the agreement was reached by the two governments, but they learned the truth through the event. They also added, they will go back to their respective offices and raise the issue to cooperate with the victim-survivors and the Korean Council to resolve the issue correctly.
25 years of long fight, for legal justice of the victims of Japanese military sexual slavery, still does not seem to come to an end. “I wouldn’t have started this fight, if I knew it would take this long…”, said Ms. Bok-dong Kim. She said, “If a government is a parent, citizens are children of the parent. How can a parent do nothing, when the children say they are hurt?”