Seoul – South Korea on Saturday marked the 30th anniversary of the day the first South Korean woman publicly spoke out about her experiences as a "comfort woman" during World War II as it commemorated those who suffered under Japan’s wartime military brothel system.
In a prerecorded video message for the Japanese Military Comfort Women Victims Memorial Day, President Moon Jae-in reiterated that his government will seek to restore the honor and dignity of the women while pursuing solutions based on a "victim-centered approach."
The president's message, which was delivered as part of a government-sponsored ceremony held online due to the coronavirus pandemic, did not contain any overt criticism of Japan over the issue.
Moon credited the accounts of former comfort women for increasing the international community's interest in women's rights and facilitating discussions about them.
The memorial day was established in December 2017 by the Moon government.
After Kim Hak-soon detailed her wartime experiences publicly on Aug. 14, 1991, other former comfort women in South Korea and elsewhere came forward with their stories. Kim died in 1997 at age 74.
The comfort women issue remains a source of tension between South Korea and Japan, which ruled the Korean Peninsula from 1910 until it was defeated in World War II in 1945.
But as time has passed, many former comfort women have died. Today only 14 of the women recognized by the South Korean government as former comfort women are still alive.
In 2015, Japan and South Korea agreed to "finally and irreversibly" settle the comfort women issue, with Japan offering an apology to former comfort women for their suffering and providing 1 billion yen ($9.1 million) to a foundation tasked with helping them financially.
Cash payments were then made to many of the women who were eligible, but the foundation was dissolved in 2019 after some women who were against the bilateral agreement called for its dissolution.
Some comfort women and their bereaved families have pursued a legal avenue to seek compensation from the Japanese government. The Seoul Central District Court in January ordered the Japanese government to pay damages to 12 plaintiffs.
With the ruling finalized but the Japanese government remaining uninvolved in the case on the grounds of sovereign immunity, the plaintiffs are exploring the seizure of Japanese government assets in South Korea.
Moon said after the ruling that he felt "a bit perplexed" by it and expressed readiness to explore solutions that are acceptable to the plaintiffs based on the 2015 bilateral agreement, and hold talks with the Japanese government to that end.
The South Korean government has since set up a consultative body that also involves representatives of the plaintiffs and a support group for former comfort women.
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