‘Comfort women’ issue, human rights or politics?
 Human Asia (humanasia@humanasia.org)     2012년 04월 20일    5,588  

   Ki-woong Yang
 Board of director of Human Asia
 Professor of Hanlim University, International Politics

On December 17th 2011, the ‘comfort women’ has became an issue for the first time in Korea-Japan summit meeting. President Myung Bak Lee and Japanese Prime minister Noda Yoshihiko spent most of the time on the ‘comfort women’ issue in the Kyoto reception hall.

In the past, the quarrels between Korea and Japan usually started with Japanese politician causing problem with such an issue and Korea fought back. This quarrel ended with Japanese government cleaning up the mess. Following are the problematic statements that Japan has made. On June 1996, Japanese Liberal Democratic Party member Okuno Seiske said ‘comfort women was a voluntary act.’ On Feburary 1997, Japanese Liberal Democratic Party member Simamura Yoshinobu said ‘the comfort woman was made by pimps in Korea and China.’ On July 1998, Japanese Agricultural Head said, ‘We are not sure if Japan forced the comfort women.’ On April 2001, the professor of Gakushuing University Fujioka NobuKatsu said ‘In Japanese embassy the ex-comfort women are continuously having a performance but I heard that they are from North Korea and I believe so too.’ On August 2008, Prime minister Goizumi Junichiro said ‘Japan does not have any legal responsibility with comfort women.’ On March 2007, Prime minister Abe said ‘There are no proofs that Japan forced the comfort women.’ On the same month, Chief Japanese Cabinet Simomura Hakubun said ‘There were comfort women and I believe some parents sold their daughter.’ On June 2007, former Thailand ambassador Okazaki Hasahiko said ‘there are no problems with comfort women.’ On August 2007, Sankei Newspaper Seoul Department head Guroda Katsuhiro said ‘they chose to become comfort women because of poverty.’

However, this time, Korea has started with the issue. President Lee said ‘Korea and Japan needs to improve together and become true partners for peace. For this matter, Japan must have courage to solve problems such as ‘comfort women’ which is acting as a barrier. President Lee hastened Japanese Prime minister Noda by saying, ‘The former comfort women alive are over 80 years old and they will be gone with few years. If Japan can’t solve this problem with 63 comfort women who are still alive, this will remain as a huge problem. This cannot be just solved in the office. All the countries including UN is looking at Japan with the issues on Human rights and Humanity.’ Noda replied to this by saying, ‘You (korea) probably know about the legal stature of Japanese government on the comfort women issue. We have worked with Korea with humanism and we will continue to cooperate in the same matter,’ which could be interpreted as a refusal to President Lee’s offer. On the other hand, Prime minister Noda has asked to remove the peace statue in front of the Japanese embassy. About this President Lee refused by saying, ‘if Japanese government paid little more attention this (building a peace statue) would have never happened. If Japanese government does not take this matter seriously, there will be second and third statue every time one of comfort women passes away.’

In this summit meeting, direct speech was used rather than diplomatic speech. The Japanese response toward this summit meeting is very complicated too. Anyways, the relationship between Korea and Japan has become opposition. This reminds relationship between Japan and Korea after a meeting of Japan and President Roh Moo-Hyun.
However, in my mind, the Korea-Japan Summit meeting differs from 2007 America-Japan Summit meeting. In 2007, the former Japanese prime minister Abe tried to fix ‘Gono Talk’(accepting the responsibility of comfort women and apologizing) and American government and senate harshly criticized. By the unexpected criticism by the United States, Japan did not fix the Gono Talk and apologized to United States government and president about the comfort women issue. Let’s look at this episode more deeply. On March 2007, prime minister Abe said ‘there is no way to prove that Japan forced (the comfort women),’ and tried to fix Gono Talk by stating that Japan did not force. Then on March 5th Abe said ‘We will not apologize (even if American senate passes the resolution) and resolution is not based on objective point of view.’ On March 8th, Japanese government agreed to support the inquiry by Liberal Democratic Party and on March 16th, concluded that ‘base on the information that Japanese government have produced, there were no proofs on enforcement.’ This was the moment trying to fix the Gono Talk.

This was when American government decided to take part with the comfort women issue. On March 2nd John Negroponte American Department of State head said, ‘Comfort women issue is one of the severest act during the second World War and America will not support any of the Japanese act trying to lower the responsibility. On March 9th John Thomas Schieffer the ambassador of America in japan said ‘It is wrong for Japanese governors to not take the comfort women issue seriously and there will be a catastrophic result if there is a drawback in Gono Talk. ‘ On March 16th America criticized Japan by ‘Japanese soldiers have forced comfort women to prostitute and this means that they were sexually assaulted.’
Confronting the harsh criticism by the US government, Prime minister Abe stopped trying to fix Gono Talk. On March 11th with the NHK interview, March 26th with the finance department, and on April 3rd phone talk with President Bush, Abe said ‘Japanese government will continue with Gono Talk,’ and changed his position. Even with this, America pushed Japan continuously. On March 26th during the unofficial press talk, Tom Casey US Department of State vice spokesman welcomed apology from Japan and said ‘America wants Japan to continue to deal with this problem and hope that Japanese government accepts its huge responsibility and be honest with this issue.’

Finally, in order to solve this problem, prime minister Abe visited America on April 26th and showed ‘sense of apology’ to 11 senate members such as Pelosy Lower Senate Head, Harry Reid Democratic Party member, Addison McConnell Republican member, Rantos Lower Senate member. However, American governors restrained themselves from making an official response. On April 27th during the America-Japan Summit meeting, Prime minister Abe told President Bush what he said the day before and Bush accepted the responsibility and said he was very sincere about his apology. However, even with the visit of prime minister Abe, American Parliament passed the ‘comfort women (sex slave) resolution with 39 to 2 vote on June 26th and on July 30th accepted the resolution with total agreement.
Such an episode is a very rare case but we can interpret this as American government and Parliament viewed comfort women issue with humanitarianism point of view.

This episode offers us an important point of view. First, we need to approach comfort women issue with human right view. President Lee’s request in political decision to Japanese prime minister might make this issue to look like a political matter. However, the comfort women issue is not a changeable political matter but rather fixed human right problem. Political decision should be made by Japanese government on their own and should not be requested by Korea politically since this might cause additional problems. Korean government needs to keep a firm attitude with this matter that this is a human right issue.

Second, Korean government needs to show continuous interest with the comfort women’s human rights and resolve this issue. First of all Korean Government needs to ensure former comfort women’s claim right and later on, make a legal form so Korean government can legally claim rights to Japan permanently. If this doesn’t happen, at the moment former comfort women dies, Korean government will lose all the claiming rights. At the same time, Korean government must apologize to former comfort women too. For losing a country and putting them into a situation where they became comfort women, for not making the issue for 65 years, and for not making Japanese society take this issue seriously, Korean government needs to find a way to apologize and compensate. Korean government cannot achieve Japanese and furthermore, international agreement just through showing little interest when there is a diplomatic problem or national political necessity. This is why Korean government must show sincere human rights policy that former comfort women can accept and execute it.