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Weekly protest vs. Japan`s sex slavery to mark 1,000th rally

Weekly protest vs. Japan`s sex slavery to mark 1,000th rally

Posted December. 12, 2011 02:33,   


"Wednesday Rally," a weekly demonstration held in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul to demand Japan`s official apology and compensation for Korean women used as sex slaves in World War II, will mark its 1,000th assembly this week.

The Japanese military in World War II forced tens of thousands of women, mainly Korean, into sexual slavery.

The Wednesday demonstration was listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world`s oldest rally on a single theme in March 2002, when its 500th rally was held.

The Korea Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sex Slavery by Japan, the organizer of the rally, will unveil a monument symbolizing a victim in front of the Japanese Embassy at the 1,000th rally to raise global awareness of the women.

In addition, 37 cities in nine countries including Japan, the U.S. and Germany will also hold rallies to show their solidarity and draw world attention to the matter.

○ Achievements after 1,000 rallies

The first rally was held Jan. 8, 1992, by 30 people from women`s rights groups, including the council, in the run-up to then Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa`s visit to Korea. Since then, the event has contributed to raising public awareness of the suffering of the victims at home and abroad over the past two decades.

Perhaps the demonstration`s biggest accomplishment is shedding light on the plight of the victims, which is deemed one to hide even in Korea.

Council leader Yoon Mi-hyang said, “After the launch of the rally, the elderly, who had been silent victims, began raising their voices as the main agents of women’s rights movement."

The Korean government eventually moved into action on the matter. On Jan. 24, 1992, less than a month after the beginning of the rally, a task force was set up to collect evidence and find victims.

The rally was initially held three to four times a month, but from Feb. 25, 1993, it turned into a regular Wednesday rally. It has been held every Wednesday for almost 20 years, excluding one Wednesday in August 1995, when an earthquake struck Kobe. Japan and another in March this year, when the rally was replaced with an event to mourn those killed in the March 11 earthquake.

The elderly victims of Japan`s sexual slavery also joined the rally to tell their stories.

Thanks to such efforts, the plight of the victims was included in the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action of the World Conference on Human Rights adopted by 171 nations in 1993 in Vienna. In 1998, a U.N. human rights subcommittee unanimously adopted a resolution to support the final report by U.N. Special Rapporteur Gay McDougall urging Japan’s early resolution of the matter.

In 2007, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a joint resolution on the victims submitted by seven congressmen.

The council said an estimated 50,000 people including the victims of the sexual slavery, civic activists, children and citizens have joined the rally every year.

○ Silent Japan and passive Korea

The council has consistently urged the Japanese government to own up to its atrocities against the victims; get to the bottom of the matter; apologize through a resolution by the Japanese Diet; payment of financial compensation; record the atrocities in history textbooks; establish a memorial and building to exhibit related historical records; and punish those responsible.

Tokyo has rejected every one of the council`s proposals, however, saying individual rights to compensation disappeared when Japan indemnified losses suffered by Korea in 1965 under a treaty that normalized bilateral ties.

The council will continue to urge Japan to pay compensation and apologize down the road. Yoon said, “From the 1,001st rally, we will further press Japan by strengthening international solidarity."

The victims of Japan`s sexual slavery are urging the Korean government, which has been passive for fear of souring bilateral relations, to take more active action.

Of the 234 victims registered with the Korean government, 169 have died. With 14 such victims dying this year, just 65 Korean victims survive.

A council source said, “Before the survivors who can testify all die, our government should step forward and receive Japan`s official apology."

Though the Korean Constitutional Court ruled in August that Seoul`s passive action in resolving the dispute between the two countries on the compensation for the victims is unconstitutional, the Korean government has remained passive in officially urging compensation from Japan.

After the ruling, the Korean Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry sent an official letter to the Japanese Foreign Ministry, but Tokyo has yet to make an official reply.

Council leader Yoon said, “Through the 1,000th rally, the civil sector has pressed Japan. Now is the time for the (Korean) government to take action as well."

hjson@donga.com pibak@donga.com