SEOUL – U.S. President Barack Obama urged Japan on Friday to settle disputes over the issue of women, mostly Koreans, who were forced to provide sex to Imperial troops in Japan’s wartime military brothels, calling it a “terrible” human rights violation.
“This was a terrible and egregious violation of human rights,” Obama said at a joint press conference with South Korean President Park Geun-hye following their summit at the Blue House presidential office in Seoul.
Many women who were forced to work in the military brothels, euphemistically called “comfort women” in Japan, were from the Korean Peninsula.
Disputes over the issue, particularly the role played by the Japanese military and, more recently, demands for official compensation for the women, have strained ties between Japan and South Korea.
Obama said the victims deserved to be “heard” and “respected.”
“There should be an accurate and clear account of what happened,” he said.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe accepts that the past has to be recognized “honestly and fairly,” Obama said.
It is in the interests of both Japan and the Korean people to find ways to soothe the heartache and pain of such women, Obama said.
Obama said, “My hope would be that we can honestly resolve some of these past tensions but also keep our eye on the future and the possibilities of peace and prosperity for all people.”
Obama brokered the first meeting between Abe and Park since they took office in 2012 and 2013, respectively, in The Hague in March, hoping an improvement in relations between Tokyo and Seoul will help the United States deal with regional issues including North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
Abe said his government will stick to the government’s 1993 apology noting the pain of the victims and the military’s involvement in running the brothels. The apology was expressed in a statement issued by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono.
In 1995, Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama expressed an apology for the suffering Japan inflicted on other Asian countries before and during World War II.
“Before holding the summit, the Japanese leader had made many promises such as inheriting the Murayama statement and Kono statement and working hard to take sincere actions for former comfort women,” Park said.
“We should not lose the momentum of the meeting of South Korea, the United States and Japan and it’s not necessary to do a lot of talking, but Prime Minister Abe should sincerely keep promises he made,” she said.
During trilateral talks in the Netherlands, Abe and Park agreed to reactivate bilateral dialogue and both governments held senior working-level talks on disputes over the comfort women issue earlier this month.