In Seoul, Obama urges Japan to settle ‘terrible’ sex slave issue


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.

  • 66Jacob

    This headline is inaccurate and misleading if you read the article and quotes. You should correct it

    • Anna

      I agree with you. Actually, the US President never used the term ‘sex slave’ during the joint news conference. The writer should have checked the full text of what the president had mentioned. Some mass media often mislead their readers and do not show us writers’ names.

  • Blanche

    In 1965, Japan signed a treaty in order to normalize diplomatic ties with South Korea. Even at that time, SK did not seek damages and apologies from Japan regarding comfort women issue. In fact, SK hardly mentioned about it. Then, Japan promised and implemented economic assistance to SK. In the eye of the law, such an issue was completely resolved at the time. However, from the end of the eighties, this issue became diplomatic problem with neighbouring countries. Afterward, in 1993, then Chief Cabinet Secretary released a statement (so-called Kono Statement). I hear it was released as a political statement that had taken the feelings of Korean people into consideration. In response to their human rights, in 1995, Japan established Asian Women’s Fund. It is really difficult to understand that every time SK administrations change, new one brings up this issue and asks Japanese leaders to apologize, compensate, or express their sincerity.

    • Yuzuriha

      You don’t seem to know the fundamentals of how the comfort women issue came to light. This issue surfaced in the 90s, with Yoshimi Yoshiaki’s discovery of documents in the Defence Agency Library and the victims finally coming out one by one with their stories. Seeing as though a big priority for the Japanese government towards the end of the war was destroying incriminating evidence, it’s not surprising that the issue lay dormant for so long.

      Legally, yes, the agreement was to drop future claims. But it’s difficult to deny that in the light of new evidence of horrific wartime atrocities, a reconsideration of the legal implications of the normalisation treaty might be healthy.

      You ask why the Koreans keep bringing this up (and it’s got nothing to do with administrations changing). That might be because the Japanese government keeps toeing the dangerous line of denying the Kono statement. Individuals like Hashimoto Tooru making gaffes about the comfort women issue is bad enough, but when the majority of the government believes in reconsidering the Kono statement and the PM publicly questions the validity of the experiences of the comfort women, it’s little wonder that there’s concern and anger. The Kono Statement is losing its significance because successive Japanese politicians are undermining it. That’s the real issue here.

      • Blanche

        The controversial comfort women issue came to light in this way.

        1. On August 14, 1970, a daily newspaper in Seoul reported that approximately 200,000 Korean and Japanese women were mobilized as Tei-shin-tai (sort of Auxiliary Territorial Service) from 1943 to 1945. Among them, Korean women were estimated to be from 50,000 to 70,000. (It is not known exactly why the newspaper estimated that many. A Japanese historian says, “judging by some authoritative document, Korean women served as Tei-shin-tai were about 4,000 at the outside.” “The total of 200,000 Tei-shin-tai is not well-founded conjecture.”)

        2. In 1973, a former Mainichi newspaper reporter Mr.S published a book titled ‘jugun-ianfu’ (Military’s Comfort Women) . It is said he was the one who created the word ‘jugun-ianfu.’ He wrote in the book that 200,000 Korean Women were mobilized as Tei-shin-tai. Of them, from 50,000 to 70,000 women were forced to serve as comfort women.

        3. In July 1983, a Japanese communist novelist and former soldier Mr. Y published a memoir titled ‘My War Crimes.’ He wrote, “Korean women living on Jeju island (known as Quelpart) were taken by force and made to work as comfort women. I had hand in forcibly taking them from the island.” In December 1983, he visited Korea to erect a ‘monument of apology.’

        4. In 1989, his memoir was translated into Hangeul (Korean alphabet) and published in Korea.

        5. A local newspaper reporter on Jeju island questioned about the ‘memoir,’ so he interviewed people on the island. As a result, he found out that there had been no evidence of abduction. In August 1989, the local newspaper reported that it had been without any foundation. After further investigation was carried out by a local historian for a few years, it was concluded that what was written in the memoir had been not strict true. (In Japan, however, few realized this fact until March 1992.)

        6. In November 1989, in Korea, in order to ask for compensation through a lawsuit for damages caused during WW2, former comfort women (to become plaintiffs) were recruited. It was led by a Japanese women and a Korean men. They distributed flyers that said, “we would bear your court costs.”

        7. In January 1990, a series of reportage that mixed up the usage of ‘Tei-shin-tai’ and comfort women appeared in the newspaper in Korea.

        8. In August 1991, a Korean former comfort women held a press conference in Korea, and she said that HER MOTHER SOLD HER to a kisaeng house owner in Pyongyang when she was 14.

        9. From August 1992, the said Japanese communist novelist and former soldier made his apologizing trips to Korea, Japan and the U.S. where he spoke on what he had done during WW2.

      • R.R.

        If there are prostitutes in modern times, it wouldn’t be unthinkable for there to also be prostitutes in WW2 and due to the inherent nature and lack of credible evidence identifying individual victims, it wouldn’t be too difficult for them to pose as “victims” and demand compensation.

        this is of course merely a hypothetical scenario but it is also one that is probable.

        IMO any arguments on politicians undermining the Kono statement is merely arguing based on conjectures, unless the Japanese government formally revises or rejects the Kono statement will there then be an actual issue for SK politicians to get riled up over. The current situation basically is one where politicians repeatedly accuses Japan for not being sincere and not apologizing, both are immensely vague accusations, with demands of an apology which countless had been issued over the years.

        I can’t help but see this all as a form of political power-play where a newly instated President will attempt to be a hard-liner to instill confidence and nationalistic support of its people.

      • Yuzuriha

        So you see political power-play in the Korean government, but not the dog whistle politics of the Abe administration? You don’t see Abe appealing to nationalistic sentiments by visiting Yasukuni?

        You say newly instated President, but you realise the Korean presidential elections came 3 days after the House of Representatives elections in Japan in 2012, in which the LDP regained power? You can use your own logic about Abe, as a ‘new’ PM, visiting Yasukuni, taking a hard-line on territorial issues etc, to gather popular support.

        I don’t agree that accusations are vague, and from what you seem to be insinuating, unfounded. If you follow the Korean or Chinese media, there certainly is excessive reporting of controversial statements made by politicians- it’s feeding the appetite of anti-Japanese sentiment. But the point is, an apology is something a government needs to stand by, in order for it to remain potent and meaningful. When you do something wrong, you don’t say sorry, then immediately turn round and say something else.

        Abe, in 2007 during his first time in office, challenged the Kono Declaration by denying that the comfort women were forcefully recruited. This time too he seemed to suggest that the time might be ripe for a reconsideration of the Kono Statement, so much so that the government actually had to clarify that no, in the end, the Kono Statement will stand as it is. Sure, the Koreans seem to be making a big fuss about it, but in my point of view I think the Japanese have rather given them cause for concern.

      • R.R.

        The point isn’t just about whether a PM or President is new but more towards whether they have a need to do so.

        Park’s grandfather being an officer in the Japanese army has raised concern on whether she can be a hardliner towards Japan and these are from Korean papers.

        Accusations are vague no matter how you twist it, the accusation that Japan is “not sincere” is as vague as it can get since there are absolutely no realistic definition to when something can be considered sincere or not sincere.

        Abe mentioned re-examining the Kono statement, it does not mean he is refuting or rejecting the statement, even if he does re-examine the statement, it has to pass through the house of representatives which by itself is a major hurdle, even if that is a point of contention among the Koreans, their aggressive reaction should be reserved until the Kono statement has been revised, if they are justified to act in such a way every time they feel that Japan isn’t being “sincere” we’re gonna have year after year of political mess and Korea and Japan wouldn’t be able to move forward. Koreans seem to have this self-entitlement issue over what they have “suffered” during the war, I came from a country occupied by Imperial Japanese troops with our own cases of comfort women recruitment during the war and we don’t even pursue that any longer, we don’t see the point in morally blackmailing Japan.

        The point I have raised with regards to the legitimacy of comfort women’s claims stands as well, the reality simply is that there are no empirical evidence that can prove that the comfort women are all forced and none of them worked as prostitutes for monetary returns in a time of war and hardship and those comfort women are also demanding compensation which has technically been given in the past, its almost like double dipping. heck you could’ve just been a farmer during the war and claim you’re a comfort women now to demand compensation, no one would even doubt your words since everyone isn’t looking at the issue objectively anymore.