SEOUL – Thirty years after going public along with her story of abduction, rape and compelled prostitution by Japan’s wartime navy, Lee Yong-soo fears she’s operating out of time to get a closure to her ordeal.
The 93-year-old is the face of a dwindling group of South Korean sexual slavery survivors who’ve been demanding for the reason that early Nineteen Nineties that the Japanese authorities totally settle for culpability and supply an unequivocal apology.
Her newest – and presumably closing – push is to influence the governments of South Korea and Japan to settle their decades-long deadlock over sexual slavery by searching for judgement of the United Nations.
Lee leads a world group of sexual slavery survivors and advocates – together with these from the Philippines, China, Indonesia, Australia and East Timor – who despatched a petition U.N. human rights investigators final week to press Seoul and Tokyo to collectively refer the difficulty to U.N.’s Worldwide Court docket of Justice. The group desires Seoul to provoke arbitration proceedings in opposition to Japan with a U.N. panel on torture if Tokyo doesn’t comply with convey the case to the ICJ.
It’s unclear whether or not South Korea, which can swear in a brand new authorities in Could, will think about bringing the matter to the U.N. when it faces stress to enhance relations with Japan amid a turbulent second in world affairs. The nation has by no means fought a case underneath such proceedings, and something lower than a lopsided victory is perhaps seen at residence as a defeat.
It’s onerous for Lee to be affected person when different survivors hold dying.
She worries about their plight of being forgotten or distorted by Japan’s obvious efforts to downplay the coercive and violent nature of the World Warfare II sexual slavery and exclude it from college books.
She cried as she described how she was dragged from residence as a 16-year-old to function a intercourse slave for Japan’s Imperial Military, and the cruel abuse she endured at a navy brothel in Taiwan till the tip of the conflict — a narrative she first instructed the world in 1992.
“Each South Korea and Japan hold ready for us to die, however I’ll battle till the very finish,” Lee stated in a latest interview at The Related Press workplace in Seoul, throughout the road from the Japanese Embassy. She stated her marketing campaign is geared toward pressuring Japan to completely settle for accountability and acknowledge its previous navy sexual slavery as conflict crimes and correctly educate its public in regards to the abuses, via textbooks and memorials.
“I believe time has up to now waited for me in order that I can clinch my tooth and do every part that I can to resolve this concern,” Lee stated.
Grievances over sexual slavery, compelled labor and different abuses stemming from Japan’s brutal colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula earlier than the tip of World Warfare II have strained Seoul-Tokyo relations in recent times because the animosities spilled over to commerce and navy cooperation points. The disputes have pissed off Washington, which desires stronger three-way cooperation with its Asian allies to confront challenges posed by North Korea and China.
The upcoming authorities change in Seoul has impressed cautious hope in Japan about improved ties. After successful final week’s vote, conservative South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk Yeol vowed “future-focused” cooperation with Japan.
Nonetheless, the international locations might discover it tough to deal with the longer term if they will’t slender their disagreements over the previous.
Lee, an influential activist who in 2007 testified on the U.S. Home of Representatives earlier than it handed a landmark decision urging Japan to acknowledge the wartime sexual slavery, now not believes Seoul and Tokyo may settle their historical past dispute with no U.N. course of.
Years of bilateral diplomatic talks produced largely fruitless back-and-forth. A haphazard settlement reached between the international locations’ overseas ministers in 2015 — together with Fumio Kishida, the present prime minister of Japan — by no means lived as much as its objective of “lastly and irreversibly” resolving the difficulty.
Lee and different survivors stated Seoul officers didn’t seek the advice of them earlier than making the deal, underneath which Japan agreed to contribute 1 billion yen ($8 million) to a South Korean fund to assist help the victims. They questioned the sincerity of the Japanese authorities — then led by right-wing Prime Minster Shinzo Abe, who had lengthy been accused by South Koreans of sanitizing Japan’s conflict crimes — as a result of Japanese officers harassed the funds shouldn’t be thought-about as compensation.
South Korean court docket rulings in recent times calling for Japan’s authorities and firms to offer reparations to victims of sexual slavery and compelled labor have been angrily rejected by Tokyo, which insists all wartime compensation points have been settled underneath a 1965 treaty normalizing relations between the 2 nations.
Historians say tens of hundreds of ladies principally from round Asia, a lot of them Korean, have been despatched to front-line navy brothels to offer intercourse to Japanese troopers. On the time of the 2015 deal, 46 such girls have been alive in South Korea, however there at the moment are solely 12.
Whereas Japan previously has repeatedly expressed remorse over its wartime actions, many South Koreans imagine such feedback lacked sincerity and have been additional ruined by conservatives who’ve continued to minimize or query Japan’s wartime previous. There’s additionally frustration over views that Japanese college books sugarcoat previous brutalities.
A U.N. report from 1996 concluded that intercourse slaves have been taken via “violence and outright coercion.” A press release from Japan in 1993 acknowledged that ladies have been taken “in opposition to their very own will,” however the nation’s leaders later denied it.
Lee started campaigning final yr for Seoul and Tokyo to collectively refer their sexual slavery-related disputes to the ICJ in The Hague, the U.N.’s highest court docket. She conveyed her request at a number of conferences with senior South Korean officers and thru letters despatched to the Japanese Embassy. After a muted response from each governments, Lee is now demanding that South Korea name for a U.N. panel to look at whether or not Tokyo is failing to hold out its obligations underneath the 1984 Conference in opposition to Torture by denying or downplaying its previous brutalities.
South Korea can both file a criticism in opposition to Japan with the conference’s committee in opposition to torture or sue Japan on the ICJ for violations of the conference, stated Ethan Hee-Seok Shin, a world regulation skilled who helps with Lee’s efforts. In dealing with disputes between international locations, the conference permits for anyone occasion to refer the matter to the ICJ if the international locations can’t agree inside six months on an arbitration panel. ICJ selections are binding upon U.N. member states.
“This concern doesn’t die with the survivors,” Lee stated. “If I can’t care for it, the issues get handed to our subsequent era.”
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