Monday, June 11, 2012

S. Korean ex-wartime sex slaves fight on, as time runs out by chianaview

S. Korean ex-wartime sex slaves fight on, as time runs out 2010-01-13 18:32:39
By Kim Junghyun

SEOUL, Jan. 13 (Xinhua) -- For a handful of grizzled South Korean grannies, most of them getting even feebler over the years, it never mattered if it rained or shined on Wednesdays.

And this Wednesday, just when the nation's temperature dropped to a 6-year low, the freezing cold weather did not matter either to the grannies, who once again came out and gathered in front of the Japanese Embassy in downtown Seoul for the 900th time.

In the record-setting 900th protest of what became known as "Wednesday Demonstration," the grannies, who were forced to serve as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers when their country was under Japan's colonial occupation, delivered the non-changing message to the Japanese embassy, whose door remained as tight-shut as ever: They want official apologies and legal compensation from the Japanese government.

"The number 900 is closer to despair than to hope, when we think of all those past years when the issue remained unresolved," said an activist from the Korea Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, established in 1988.

"But we stand here today as if we are starting out again," she said. "There should never be the 1,000th protest."

South Korean sex slaves, whose number the government in the 1990s said stood at 234, were among some 100,000 to 200,000 Asian women coerced to provide sexual service to the Imperial Japanese Army, with Tokyo's then-military government backing rape camp operations for 13 years.

Even after Japan's colonial rule in August 1945 at the end of the war, survivors of the degrading slavery, often euphemistically called "comfort women," had to live in ensuing humiliation back home, where a deep-rooted taboo against being sexually violated has long stifled any call for justice.

But South Korean civic groups and individual activists brought the issue to the surface in early 1990s, and weekly protests have been held since Jan. 8, 1992, which gradually grew into a bigger, more global movement with activists in Japan, Germany, the United States and South Africa joining hands.

Meanwhile, the number of South Korean survivors has decreased, leaving only 88 women mostly in their eighties and nineties.

"It's sad that more and more grannies pass away over the years. Hopefully the issue will be settled when at least some of them are alive," Park Woong-seo, a 27-year-old Seoulite, told Xinhua.

While the Japanese government has not yet extended a proper apology and the South Korean government remains reluctant to bring up the touchy issue on diplomatic concerns, the Wednesday protests and global solidarity have led to some significant accomplishments such as UN's continued call for compensation for former sex slaves, according to Yoon Mi-hyang, the representative of the Korea Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan.

"Hopes are higher than ever, as Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama pledged to make a law on solving comfort women's issues when he was still an opposition lawmaker," Yoon told Xinhua, adding that only legislation would prevent politically motivated flip-flopping.

Her council will organize campaigns to push for legislation in Japan, with an aim to get 500,000 people sign the petition, she said.

Whether new campaigns can bear fruit or not, the grannies, for whom time is slowly running out, will be there next Wednesday, rain or shine.

"Your support helps me live on, day by day. Thank you all," one of the former sex slaves said during the protest.

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