Deal Between Japan and Korea Regarding Comfort Women Deserves Criticism

A photo of a memorial statue honouring the thousands of WWII "comfort women" victims who endured sexual slavery at the hands of the Japanese Imperial Army.
A photo of a memorial statue honouring the thousands of WWII “comfort women” victims who endured sexual slavery at the hands of the Japanese Imperial Army.

In a major development, the Japanese and South Korean governments reached an agreement today concerning Korean comfort women kidnapped and routinely sexually assaulted by Japanese military personnel during World War II. Despite ample evidence demonstrating that the Japanese army deliberately kidnapped thousands of women from Korea and other parts of Asia and forced them into sexual slavery, Japan’s government has been notoriously resistant to confronting this chapter in their history.

In 1993, the Japanese government issued a formal apology to comfort women, but since that time the country has reefused to be held further accountable. There even remains in Japan a widespread revisionist movement that denies that the forcible sexual assault of thousands of women and young girls by Japanese troops even took plac; those revisionists deny the stories of the more than two hundred comfort women brutalized during World War II who have since come forward to describe their rape by Japanese troops. Those survivors have carried out an unrelenting campaign to demand justice from the Japanese government — a government that seems to have adopted a policy of waiting for comfort women survivors to die off so that the issue will just quietly go away.

Today marked a significant moment in the fight for justice for comfort women when South Korea and Japan — under pressure by the United States government — came to an agreement that would require Japan’s prime minister to take responsibility for the comfort women atrocity (video embedded below), and to set aside an $8.3 million dollar fund to provide medical care and living costs for the 46 surviving comfort women, who are all now in their 80s and 90s.

In exchange, the South Korean government agreed to remove a statue commemorating Korean comfort women erected in Seoul outside the Japanese embassy, and to promise to never criticize the Japanese government again on the comfort women issue.

I think this was a shitty deal. I’m not alone in thinking that — many of the comfort women interviewed about the deal were also outraged.

Neither the surviving Korean comfort women nor their advocates were involved in the formulation of this agreement. The $8.3 million dollar fund only seems like a large sum of money given the small number of comfort women who have survived so long, particularly given that the trauma they experienced resulted in a lifetime of poor health for most comfort women. But, if one considers that there are an estimated tens of thousands of women and girls who were kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery during World War II by Japan, the fund amounts to less than $1000 per comfort woman victimized by the Japanese military.

The Japanese government is not required by this agreement to accept legal responsibility for the comfort women, which would have required a more extensive legal reparations settlement. What Japan gets out of this agreement is the guarantee that South Korea can never again hold the Japanese government accountable for these war crimes. Indeed, Korea has agreed to remove a memorial that would educate the public on comfort women, and they can never raise the issue with them again; and so, Japan has effectively erased that history.

The Japanese government facilitated the rape of tens of thousands of Asian civilian women — most of them Korean — in an act that most would agree is a war crime, and they just bought a clean conscience over that atrocity for an insulting sum of money. So no, I don’t think justice was found for Korean comfort women today.

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