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UNESCO listing sought for records of WWII forced labor

Politicians and historians are pushing to gain UNESCO recognition for documents listing Koreans forced to work for the Japanese during the colonial period (1910-45).

The records include the names of hundreds of thousands of Korean victims pressed to serve in the Japanese military or other types of forced labor, in three separate copies each compiled by the Korean government since 1953.

The move came shortly after the South Korean government discovered new copies that identified 229,781 Korean wartime victims. The documents were found at the Korean Embassy in Japan. The new records, comprising 65 books, have become the oldest surviving record of victims’ names, according to reports.

Korean victims were conscripted to the Japanese military as soldiers and sex slaves, and also as laborers for businesses.

Additionally, the government has been keeping records that compiled names of 285,771 forced laborers in 1957. In 2005, the government received reports of Koreans who were not listed as victims of Japan’s forced labor until 2005, based on testimonies and historic evidence. The latest document includes about 110,000 names.

The three separate records could play an important role in highlighting Japan’s wartime atrocities, according to politicians and historians.

Rep. Lee Myoung-su of the majority Saenuri Party is among the politicians pushing for the project. He is reportedly considering putting the UNESCO project up for discussion at a parliamentary committee.

“Japan has been trying to have industrial sites where Japanese businessmen exploited Koreans listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites,” said an aide to the lawmaker.

“We also need to globally promote the lists, which hold high cultural value,” he said.

Historians are also seeking ways to register the lists with UNESCO.

“The lists are commensurate with requirements for UNESCO cultural heritage, which aim to discover and preserve cultural assets with universal value,” said Hwang Min-ho, a history professor at Soongsil University in Seoul.

“(We have to) utilize the records as materials that help people realize the importance of peace and human rights,” he said. Hwang has been leading an academic study into wartime victims of Japan’s forced labor mobilization.

According to the Prime Minister’s Office, nearly 227,000 Koreans reported being forced to work by Japan during the colonial period, while some scholars project that the number may have reached 8 million between 1938 and 1945.

By Cho Chung-un