Wartime sex slaves still fight after 1,000 weeks
괘씸한 日, 여전히 반성할 줄은 모르고…
Four former “comfort women” living at the House of Sharing in Gwangju, Gyeonggi pose last Wednesday before heading to Seoul to attend the 999th street demonstration. From left are Park Ok-seon, 87, Kim Soon-ok, 89, Yi Ok-seon, 84, and Kang Il-chul, 83. By Park Sang-moon
On a day she’ll never forget, Yi Ok-seon woke up in her small room in August 1945 expecting another day of the sexual torture she had endured for the previous three years.
But there was unusual silence outside her room. She walked out to the makeshift brothels lining the street and found all the men had disappeared. Japan had lost the war and her captors and tormentors had disappeared.
Yi let out a sigh of relief, which fast turned a sigh of despair.
“If they had taken us to there,” she recalls thinking, “they should have sent us home.”
Six former “comfort women” attend the 999th protest at the Japanese Embassy in Susong-dong, Jongno, central Seoul, last Wednesday. By Park Sang-moon
Yi was a forced sex slave in a so-called “comfort station” in Yanji, northeastern China. The Japanese military had kidnapped the Busan native in Ulsan in 1942 when she was 14 years old and brought her to Yanji.
She later learned that her Korean nationality was terminated because her parents, after years of unsuccessfully searching for her, reported her as dead. She was forced to live in China for the next 55 years.
“They were so irresponsible back then,” Yi says, who returned to Korea in 2000 and who is now 84. “And they are irresponsible still.”
On Wednesday, Yi will join other surviving sex slaves from the war to protest the lack of official remorse of the Japanese government outside its embassy in Jongno, central Seoul. For the past 20 years, a protest has been held there every Wednesday organized by the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan. This week’s will be the 1,000th demonstration, and the so-called “comfort women” and their supporters are hoping for maximum exposure and the greatest level of shame for Japan.
In March 2002, when the 500th demonstration was held, the protests went into the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest regular protest of a specific issue in the world. Each year has set a new record.
Yoon Mee-hyang, head of the Korean council, said the 1,000 protest milestone reflects the tenacity of the halmonis, the Korean word for grandmothers, and the total intransigence of Japan.
“The truth doesn’t go away no matter how ugly it is,” said Yoon, “and the Japanese government will realize it when the survivors and their supporters go out again during the 1,000th demonstration on Wednesday.”
During the hour-long weekly events, people from all walks of life - including farmers, nuns, monks and students - join the victims in calling for the Japanese government to acknowledge the crimes against the women, educate their own students about the wartime misdeeds, punish any responsible military officers who remain alive and above all to officially apologize and make reparations to the surviving victims.
For 20 years, it has been a losing battle. The Japanese government is deaf to the calls, claiming the 1965 Korea-Japan treaties that normalized relations between the two countries, exempts it from paying individual compensation for wrongdoings during its 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, including issues that emerged later, such as that of the comfort women.
The Korean government has also been passive partly because of $300 million in aid and $500 million in loans the Park Chung Hee military regime received under the treaties.
“The Japanese government says everything has been settled with the treaties, which is not true, and the Korean government is not rebutting such an absurd claim,” said Kang Il-chul, 83, another former comfort woman.
The 1,000th demonstration is an attempt to give the moment more momentum. According to the organizers, human rights and civic groups in more than 20 countries will stage demonstrations supporting the comfort women this Wednesday. Yi and another former comfort woman will travel to New York and have a joint media conference with Holocaust survivors on Wednesday.
“I have heard there are still many people who don’t know about this issue and I am ready to give my account to the people there,” Yi said of the trip to New York. “I am neither afraid nor ashamed.”
According to the research by Jeong Jin-sung, a professor at Seoul National University, 50,000 to 200,000 women, some as young as 11 years old, were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II and over 80 percent of them were Korean.
The comfort women issue only came to prominence in the early 1990s when the victims mustered the courage to go public, encouraged by the supporters who told them the Japanese government should acknowledge the abuses.
Since Kim Hak-soon revealed her past as a comfort woman in August 1991, the first Korean to do so, a total of 234 Koreans have registered with the Korean government as former comfort women.
Human rights and women’s rights groups, led by the Korean council, brought the issue to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in 1992. The commission published reports in 1996 and 1998 advising the Japanese government to take such measures as giving legal reparations, punishing those responsible and issuing a formal apology.
Several countries joined to press Japan to address the issue starting with a U.S. House of Representative resolution in 2007, which urged Japan to “formally acknowledge, apologize and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner.” The Netherlands, Canada, Australia and the European Union followed suit in issuing similar resolutions.
The Korean government enacted a law giving financial aid to former comfort women in 1993. It says it has tried to resolve the issue with Japan diplomatically.
“At various bilateral meetings with Japan since the 1990s, we have delivered our message that the comfort women issue is not included in the 1965 treaties and needs resolution,” said an official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
The Korean council sent a letter to the Japanese government in the early 1990s demanding an apology and reparations and received a short reply saying it would not respond to a demand from a Korean civic group.
Last Aug. 30, the Constitutional Court ordered the government to renegotiate with Japan using a clause in the 1965 settlement agreement that leaves room for negotiations. The court’s ruling was in response to a petition filed in 2006 by 109 comfort women, who claimed their rights to pursue happiness, guaranteed under the constitution, were violated by the government’s lack of efforts on the issue.
After the ruling, the Korean government established a task force under the Foreign Ministry to prepare for negotiations with Tokyo on the issue and the task force sent two letters to Japan suggesting bilateral talks. There has been no reply.
The task force also created a team of advisers comprised of legal experts or scholars on international affairs. The task force has had three meetings, including one held last Tuesday.
Lee Jang-hie, law professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, who is one of the advisers, said Korea can consider bringing the issue to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague.
In 1995, the Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama issued a statement apologizing to the comfort women “as prime minister of Japan” and set up the Asian Women’s Fund worth 100 billion yen ($1.29 billion), to give money to the comfort women in the region.
But Korean comfort women rejected the money because it came from private donations, not the government, and the Japanese government was avoiding responsibility for reparations. Former comfort women in Taiwan agreed with the Korean stance and the fund was actually wrapped up in 2007. Some compensation was given to victims in Holland and the Philippines.
“We want an apology from the Japanese government, not individual apologies, even if they come from the prime minister,” said Lee Sung-soon, president of the Korea Chongshindae’s Institute, another pro-comfort women group.
Some Japanese civic groups have acted in solidarity with the Korean comfort women. They arrange educational “peace tours” for Japanese in Korea. According to the House of Sharing in Gwangju, Gyeonggi, a shelter for comfort women, around 2,000 Japanese visit the facility on tours every year.
On Wednesday, Japanese civic groups plan a rally in Tokyo that will wrap the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs building with a “human chain.”
The aging of the comfort women - there are only 65 survivors among those registered with the Korean government and most are 83 to 93 years old - is adding urgency to the movement to help them. This year, 14 former comfort women died and activists suspect the Japanese government is just stalling until they’re all gone and forgotten.
That is misjudgment on Japan’s part, says Kim Pan-soo, 73, one of the supporters at the 999th demonstration in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul last Wednesday.
A Peace Monument, made with 37 million won ($32,270) worth of donation, will be erected outside the Japanese embassy during the 1,000th protest. The monument, which includes a statue of a hanbok-clad Korean girl, will become a permanent demonstration site even when the survivors are gone, he said.
Tokyo doesn’t like the Peace Monument outside its embassy. Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said in a press conference in Tokyo Thursday that the Japanese government requested the Korean government stop the plan to erect the monument.
By Moon Gwang-lip [firstname.lastname@example.org]
한글 관련 기사 [머니투데이]
`日 외무성 인간사슬로 포위하자`...14일 도쿄에 무슨일?
[위안부 할머니 수요시위 14일로 1000회..일 등 세계각지에서 `연대집회`]
저고리를 입은 단발머리 소녀. 두 손을 모으고 다소곳하게 앉은 소녀의 그림자 위에는 나비 한 마리가 날아간다. 한국정신대문제대책협의회(정대협)가 1000회를 맞은 일본군 위안부 문제해결을 위한 수요시위를 기념하기 위해 만든 `평화비` 모습이다.
위안부 피해자 할머니들의 어린 시절 모습을 형상화한 이 조각은 천 번째 시위가 열리는 오는 14일 서울 종로구 주한 일본대사관 앞에 세워질 예정이다.
지난 7일 제999차 수요시위에서 평화비 설치비에 정성을 보탠 한 시민은 "이제는 (위안부 피해자를) 잊지 않기 위한 노력이 필요하다"며 기부 이유를 설명했다. 윤미향 정대협 대표도 "할머니들의 아픔을 생각나게 하는 소녀상을 각자 마음속에 심어가길 바란다"고 말했다.
위안부 피해자 할머니들의 외침이 20년간 이어지면서 이제 화두는 이 역사적 사실을 `알리기`에서 `기억하기`로 옮겨졌다.
일본군 위안부 피해자 문제는 90년대 들어서 국내외에 알려지기 시작했다. 1991년 1월 가이후 도시키 당시 일본 수상이 방한하면서 정대협 등이 규탄 시위를 처음 열었고 이 시위는 이듬해인 92년 1월 8일 열린 첫 정기 수요시위의 발판이 됐다.
가장 큰 변화를 이끈 것은 피해자 할머니들의 공개 증언이었다. 1991년 8월 김학순(당시 67세)할머니는 국내에서 처음으로 일본군 `위안부`였음을 밝히는 기자회견을 열었다.
열여섯 나이에 강제로 끌려간 김 할머니는 "당시 당했던 일이 하도 기가 막히고 끔찍해 평생 가슴 속에만 묻어두고 살아왔다"며 "국민 모두가 과거를 잊은 채 일본에 매달리는 것을 보니 도저히 참을 수가 없다"고 한을 풀어달라고 호소했다.
이후 대구에서 문옥주 할머니가 공개 증언을 하는 등 피해자 할머니들의 적극적인 증언과 시민단체들의 활동으로 국내에서는 1993년 `일제하 종군위안부 생활안정지원 법안`이 국회를 통과했다.
국외에서는 1993년 UN세계인권대회 결의문에 위안부 피해자 문제가 포함됐고, 1996년 UN인권위원회에 일본군 위안부 문제에 대해 일본 정부가 국제법적 책임이 있다는 내용의 정식 보고서가 제출되는 등 국제기구와 시민단체도 일본군 위안부 문제 해결을 위해 움직이기 시작했다.
여성가족부에 따르면 위안부 피해자는 234명(2011년 12월 지원대상자 기준)이지만 생존자는 64명에 그친다. 올해만 15명의 할머니가 돌아가셨다. 이는 `기억하기`로 문제해결의 화두가 옮겨진 이유기도 하다.
수요시위에 꾸준히 참석하는 위안부 피해자 강인출 할머니는 아무런 대답이 없는 일본 정부를 향해 "이런 식으로 우리가 죽기를 기다리는 것 같다"고 했다. 강 할머니는 증언할 피해자가 모두 세상을 떠나면 문제도 함께 묻히길 바라는 듯 한 일본 정부의 태도를 강하게 비판했다.
이어 "한일 협정 얘기하면서 보상 다했다고 하는데 정작 우리는 보상도 사죄도 받은 적이 없다"며 "우린 죽더라도 다 (말)하고 죽을 것"이라고 말했다.
할머니들의 증언을 기록하고 `기억하기` 위한 작업은 곳곳에서 진행 중이다.
일본에 살고 있는 위안부 피해자 송신도 할머니가 10년간 일본 정부를 상대로 치른 법정싸움을 필름에 담은 다큐멘터리 영화 `나의 마음은 지지 않았다` 등 영상물과 출판물 제작이 이어지고 있다.
정대협도 현재 서울 마포구 성산동에 `전쟁과 여성인권박물관` 건립을 준비 중이다. 개관 예정일은 내년 3월. 정대협 관계자는 "일본군 위안부 피해자들의 생애와 문제해결을 위한 운동사 등을 전시한 박물관을 통해 이 같은 범죄가 재발되지 않길 바란다"고 설명했다.
오는 14일 낮 12시 일본대사관 앞에서 열리는 제1000회 일본군 위안부 문제해결을 위한 수요시위는 세계 각지에서 연대 집회가 진행된다고 정대협은 전했다.
이날 일본 도쿄에서는 `외무성 인간 사슬로 포위하자`는 슬로건으로 집회가 진행되는 등 삿뽀로, 나고야, 후쿠시마, 오사카 등 일본 전역에서 집회가 계획돼 있다. 미국 뉴욕에서는 홀로코스트 피해자와 위안부 피해자 할머니들이 함께 전쟁 피해를 알리고 평화를 촉구하는 행사가 열린다.
1000회 시위에서도 할머니들은 △전쟁범죄 인정 △진상규명 △공식사죄 △법적배상 △전범자 처벌 △역사교과서에 기록 등을 일본 정부에 촉구할 예정이다.