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U.N. chief supports Japan-South Korea ‘comfort women’ agreement

Kyodo, Staff Report

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has told Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that he backs the agreement signed by Tokyo and Seoul on the Korean women who were forced to work in Japan’s wartime military brothels, the Foreign Ministry said.

The agreement, signed in 2015 to “finally and irreversibly” settle the long-standing dispute over the “comfort women,” Japan’s euphemism for the sex slaves, has come under further scrutiny since Moon Jae-in, who has called for renegotiating it, was elected South Korean president earlier this month.

In the talks held on the sidelines of the Group of Seven industrialized nations’ summit in the Italian city of Taormina on Saturday, Abe stressed the importance of complying with the accord, while Guterres said he supports and welcomes it, according to the ministry.

Guterres’ comments came after the U.N. Committee against Torture issued a report on May 12 calling on Tokyo and Seoul to modify the accord so that it ensures “the surviving victims of sexual slavery during World War II are provided with redress.”

Moon has told Abe that much of the Korean public objects to the comfort women agreement, which also lacks the complete backing of the survivors, who were not consulted about it beforehand.

Under the 2015 agreement, Japan disbursed ¥1 billion ($8.9 million) last year to a South Korean fund set up to help the surviving former comfort women and their families.

Tokyo hopes to overcome its differences over the long-standing issue with Seoul and strengthen bilateral coordination in countering Pyongyang’s growing nuclear and missile threats, Japanese officials said.

In the talks, Abe also briefed Guterres about his government’s efforts to ratify the U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. The ministry claimed that efforts by the Abe administration to pass a contentious conspiracy bill to penalize the planning of serious crimes, is part of the ratification effort.

While the government says the bill is a prerequisite for ratifying the U.N. treaty, aimed at fighting terrorism, the legislation is spurring protests from civil groups and Japan’s opposition parties, who warn it will lead to abuses of power not seen since the war.

Joseph Cannataci, U.N. special rapporteur on the right to privacy, has raised concerns about the conspiracy bill as well, saying it could lead to unjust restrictions on privacy and freedom of expression. Tokyo has protested his concerns.

Over Cannataci’s claims, Guterres told Abe the special rapporteur acts as an individual, separate from the United Nations, and that the rapporteur’s views do not necessary reflect the opinion of the world body, according to the ministry.