During World War II, approximately 200,000 South Korean women were forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army, along with women from China, the Philippines, Indonesia and Taiwan. On Monday (Dec. 28), Japan finally issued an official apology to the 46 "comfort women" who are still alive in South Korea, and offered to contribute $8.3 million to a fund for the victims.
After years of denial, Japan finally admitted in 1993 that it forced women into sexual slavery during WWII. It has refused to directly compensate victims, however, despite repeated requests from South Korea -- until now.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said during a press conference that he "expresses anew his most sincere apologies and remorse to all the women who underwent immeasurable and painful experiences and suffered incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women."
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se
But not everyone is pleased with the apology. An advocacy group for former comfort women, the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, issued a statement saying that the deal isn't enough, calling it "almost humiliating."
The group claims that "although the Japanese government announced that it 'feels [its] responsibilities,' the statement lacks the acknowledgment of the fact that the colonial government and its military had committed a systematic crime ... Also, the apology was not directly made by the Prime Minister himself as the official representative of the government but was read by a diplomatic representative, while it was unclear to whom he was actually apologizing."
The statement goes on to cite concerns that "It appears that Japan will pass the future responsibilities on to the government of the victims’ country after simply paying off the money," and that "the Agreement did not specify anything on preventative initiatives such as truth seeking and history education."
New York Times reporter Alex Burns has also pointed out that the $8.3 million payment is relatively small -- it equals just a tiny percentage of what the NYPD pays out in legal settlements in a single year.
One former "comfort woman," Kim Bok-dong, who was just 14 years old when she was forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese army, told CNN in an interview earlier this year, "Our job was to revitalize the soldiers. On Saturdays, they would start lining up at noon. And it would last until 8 p.m. ... There are no words to describe my suffering. Even now. I can't live without medicine. I'm always in pain."
South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said during the press conference that if Japan keeps its promise, this issue will be considered "irreversibly" resolved between the two countries, and that the two countries will also "refrain from criticizing and blaming each other in the international society, including the United Nations” -- something the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan is also displeased with.
In its statement, the Council wrote that the Korean government's promise that it "will not even mention the military sexual slavery issue in the future is shameful and disappointing," and referred to the idea of the agreement -- which it describes as "vague and incomplete" -- being "final and irreversible" as "rather shocking."
The group also expressed its disappointment that in exchange for the apology, the South Korean government promised to look into removing the famous comfort women peace memorial statue located outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul, saying the memorial is "a public property and a historic symbol," and referring to the government's promise to consider removing it as a "diplomatic humiliation."
An 88-year-old former comfort woman named Lee Yong-Soo told the BBC, "I wonder whether the talks took place with the victims really in mind. We're not after the money."