National

Korean 'comfort women' defend memorial in California park

by Marcie Kagawa

Kyodo

The city of Glendale, California, fighting a lawsuit that seeks to remove a “comfort women” memorial from one of its parks, has received statements of support from two Korean women recounting their experiences of being forced to provide sex to Japanese soldiers.

The Korean American Forum of California (KAFC) said Tuesday in front of a U.S. Central District of California courthouse that the advocacy group submitted the declarations by Lee Ok-seon, 87, and Kang Il-chul, 85, along with its application to appear in court in support of the city.

“In this lawsuit, Gingery vs. City of Glendale, the plaintiffs seek to silence the voices of these women and of the people like the Korean American Forum of California that are advocating for them and for remembrance of their history and the tragedies that happened during World War II,” KAFC lawyer Catherine Sweetser said.

The case was lodged by two Japanese-Americans and a nonprofit organization who argue that the city erected the statue without City Council approving the inscription, which urges Japan to accept responsibility for the wartime brothel system.

They also say the monument could adversely affect U.S. relations with Japan and thus infringe on the constitutional power of the federal government to set foreign policy.

Lee said she was abducted off a street in rural Ulsan in 1942 when the Korean Peninsula was under Japanese rule. She was about 15 at the time and was held for three years.

She said she and the other women want the Japanese government to issue both an official apology and reparations.

“Is it really what you want, to wait out until all of us die,” Lee asked through an interpreter during a news conference on Tuesday. “I don’t think that is the right thing to do.”

According to KAFC spokeswoman Phyllis Kim, there are 54 surviving former comfort women living in South Korea today. Ten, including Lee and Kang, live at the House of Sharing, a home for former comfort women in Gwangju.

Lee and Kang are in the United States on a two-week trip to Southern California and the East Coast, during which they will meet with politicians familiar with the comfort women issue, attend events and visit comfort women memorials erected in U.S. cities.

Kang, who said she was abducted at age 14, added that she is thankful for those in the United States who are working to promote awareness of the plight of former comfort women.

“Many different countries have come together to work on this issue in solidarity for many years,” she said through an interpreter. “But recently people in the United States have been raising their voices to speak out about this issue and we are utterly grateful for the American people for doing this.”

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