Published : 2013-08-15 19:39
Updated : 2013-08-15 19:39
An 87-year-old woman who was forced into sexual slavery by Japan during World War II died recently, reducing the number of surviving former Korean comfort women registered with the government to just 57. The death of Lee Yong-nyeo renewed concerns that all the aging victims may pass away before Tokyo issues an apology or compensation.
Historians estimate more than 200,000 women, most of whom were Koreans, were coerced into sexual slavery at frontline brothels run by the Japanese military during the war. A total of 234 Korean victims have broken silence about their past sufferings since the early 1990s, trying to tell the world about Japan’s wartime atrocities.
Resolving the sexual slavery issue has become a race against time, as most victims are well over 80 years old. Seoul has increased pressure on Tokyo to pay heed to their request for a sincere apology and compensation. But the Japanese government has turned a deaf ear to calls for serious efforts to resolve the issue, repeatedly claiming all matters regarding Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula were settled in a 1965 deal under which Seoul and Tokyo normalized ties.
In a bid to affect change in Tokyo’s intransigent stance, some victims and their support groups have filed compensation suits with Japanese courts. Earlier this week, 12 former comfort women applied for civil mediation to a court in Seoul, marking the first time such a lawsuit has been filed here. The women can officially file for compensation if the Japanese government refuses to comply with the court’s mediation plan. But even if the court orders compensation, they must still file a separate lawsuit with a Japanese court to receive the money.
The time-consuming legal process is certainly too long for the octogenarian victims to see to completion. Speaking to participants at an international symposium on the sex slavery issue in Seoul on Tuesday, an 85-year-old victim said she “could never die” until she heard a formal apology from Japan. However strong, her will may be defeated by her natural lifespan.
Japan should recognize that it will forever lose the opportunity to repair its moral position when all the surviving victims courageous enough to lay bare their painful memories pass away.