SKorea: Sex slavery deal with Japan faulty

A 2015 deal with Japan over South Korean "comfort women" failed to meet the victims' needs, South Korea said yesterday, throwing ties into doubt.

A statue of a "comfort woman" is displayed in an installation of empty chairs set up in central Seoul yesterday, to commemorate the death of eight former sex slaves this year.

A 2015 deal with Japan over South Korean “comfort women” forced to work in Japan’s wartime military brothels failed to meet the victims’ needs, South Korea said yesterday, throwing ties into doubt.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha apologized for the controversial deal yesterday, as a panel investigating the negotiations leading up to the agreement unveiled its results.

It concluded that the dispute over the “comfort women,” a Japanese euphemism for the thousands of girls and women, many of them Korean, forced to work in Japanese wartime brothels, could not be “fundamentally resolved” because the victims’ demand for legal compensation had not been met.

South Korea wants Japan to take legal responsibility and provide due compensation. Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said yesterday the 2015 settlement, which includes a US$8.8 million fund to help the victims, resulted from “legitimate negotiations”, warning any amendment may complicate relations.

“If (South Korea) tries to revise the agreement that is already being implemented, that would make Japan’s ties with South Korea unmanageable and it would be unacceptable,” Kono said in a statement.

Kang apologized for “giving wounds of the heart to the victims, their families, civil society that support them and all other people because the agreement failed to sufficiently reflect a victim-oriented approach, which is the universal standard in resolving human rights issues.”

Under the deal, endorsed by South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s predecessor Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japan apologized to former comfort women and provided the fund to help them.

They agreed the issue would be “irreversibly resolved” if both fulfilled their obligations.

Tokyo says the matter of compensation for the women was settled under a 1965 treaty. It says that in 2015, it agreed to provide the funds to help them heal “psychological wounds.”

The South Korean government will review the result of the investigation and translate it into policy after consulting victims and civic groups that support them, Kang said.

The issue has been a regular cause for contention between Japan and China and North and South Korea since the war. Japan colonized the Korean peninsula between 1910 and 1945 and occupied parts of China before and after the war.

Japan wants South Korea to remove statues near the Japanese embassy in Seoul and the Japanese consulate in Busan city commemorating Korean “comfort women.” Seoul says the memorials were erected by civic groups and therefore out of its reach.

According to the investigation, however, the sides struck a separate, secret deal in which South Korea promised to persuade the groups to relocate the statues, provide no support for their overseas statue-raising campaign and refrain from calling the women “sex slaves” on the world stage.

In 2014, the UN Human Rights Committee requested Tokyo to clarify the “comfort women” euphemism, with an independent expert on the panel calling for it to be replaced with “enforced sex slaves.”

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