• Kyodo


UNESCO on Monday added 78 nominations to its Memory of the World heritage program, including diplomatic records of Korean envoys to Japan and three ancient stone monuments north of Tokyo.

Meanwhile, a panel of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization recommended postponing a decision on whether to add documents on “comfort women,” who were forced to work in wartime Japanese military brothels.

UNESCO did not add the records of late Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara, who helped some 6,000 Jewish refugees escape Nazi persecution during World War II. The organization did not disclose the reason for the decision.

The 333 documents on envoys sent by the Joseon Dynasty to Japan, mainly in the Edo Period between the 17th and 19th centuries, were jointly filed by Japanese and South Korean local governments and private entities.

They include diplomatic papers and pictures of the envoys stored in 12 prefectures across Japan and in parts of South Korea.

The three ancient stone monuments called the Three Stelae of Kozuke, in Gunma Prefecture, were built in the seventh and eighth centuries, with Korean immigrants who settled in the area assisting in their design.

With their inscriptions in Chinese characters, the monuments reflect cultural interactions that existed in East Asia. One of the three, built in 681, is the oldest stone monument in Japan that exists in complete form.

The addition of the documents brings the number of Japanese items on the UNESCO archive register to seven.

This time around, UNESCO received around 130 applications for listing in the program.

The issue of comfort women remains a thorn in diplomatic relations between Japan and other Asian countries.

The International Solidarity Committee, which consists of private groups from seven countries and one region, had led the campaign to seek UNESCO registry of comfort women documents. They have demanded that the Japanese government acknowledge legal responsibility for sexual exploitation of Korean comfort women.

Japan has maintained that all legal claims were resolved under a 1965 Japan-South Korea treaty that normalized bilateral diplomatic relations.

Tokyo also says the possible registry would go against a deal struck by the Japanese and South Korean governments in 2015 to “finally and irreversibly” settle the comfort women issue.

In a statement, the International Advisory Committee of the heritage program recommended facilitating a dialogue among the nominators of the comfort women documents and concerned parties.

It also recommended “setting a place and time convenient to the parties for this dialogue, with a view to leading to a joint nomination to encompass as far as possible all relevant documents.”

In 2015, Japan strongly protested UNESCO and temporarily withheld its obligatory dues to the body after documents submitted by China on the 1937 Nanking Massacre were added to the heritage list.

Tokyo then called on UNESCO to improve the transparency and fairness of the screening and registration process as well as take account of opposing views.

In response to such calls, on Oct. 18 UNESCO approved a plan for a new procedure that will heed the views of nations concerned with its Memory of the World heritage registration process and improve transparency.

Although the new procedure will apply from the next registration screening process in 2019, UNESCO appears to have taken it into account during the current round.

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