UNITED NATIONS/BERLIN – The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met Friday with Gil Won-ok, one of the less than 50 surviving victims of Japan’s wartime military-run brothel system known as “comfort women.”
Ban met with Gil and Yoon Mee-Hyang, co-chair of the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan.
An agreement in December between South Korea and Japan included an indirect apology from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and a Japanese pledge to provide ¥1 billion yen ($8 million) to a fund for the South Korean victims.
Ban, who is South Korean, said in a statement that he was sympathetic with Gil. “It is crucial that the voices of victims and survivors are heard,” he said.
The meeting came the same week that survivor Yongsoo Lee addressed the United Nations Correspondents Association.
“I know Ban Ki-moon is Korean person but what does he know about what happened to us?” she said at the Tuesday meeting.
Only a handful of the Asian comfort women are still alive today, most of them in their late 80s and 90s.
The meeting came a day after U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Hussein indicated that the Japan-South Korea agreement to “finally and irreversibly” resolve the issue is insufficient.
The terms in the agreement, announced late last December, “have been questioned by various U.N. human rights mechanisms, and most importantly by the survivors themselves,” Hussein told a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting Thursday, where he made an annual report on the human rights situations around the world.
Hussein said, “It is fundamentally important that the relevant authorities reach out to these courageous and dignified women,” adding, “Ultimately, only they can judge whether they have received genuine redress.”
In a related move, a group of U.N. human rights experts, including special rapporteurs tackling discrimination against women and promoting truth, justice and reparation, said in a statement Friday that the Japanese and South Korean governments “should understand that this issue will not be considered resolved so long as all the victims, including from other Asian countries, remain unheard, their expectations unmet and their wounds left wide open.”
They also said that they are “deeply concerned” that South Korea “may remove a statue commemorating not only the historical issue and legacy of the comfort women but also symbolizing the survivors’ long search for justice.”
In a report to conclude its examination on Japan on Monday, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women expressed regret over the Japan-South Korea agreement, saying, among other things, that it “did not fully adopt a victim-centered approach.”