Last week witnessed two major developments regarding international efforts to press Japan to resolve the issue of its wartime sexual enslavement of women during World War II.
The U.N.’s top human rights official condemned the Tokyo government’s failure to settle the issue in its strongest statement yet. And officials from the White House and the U.S. State Department met with two Korean victims of wartime sex slavery for the first time.
These developments indicate that the solidarity of the international community is getting stronger and Japan’s failure to acknowledge its misdeeds and make due amends is only deepening its international isolation. In short, Tokyo is under siege.
The first action came from the U.N.’s top human rights official, who, in a statement, condemned Japan, urging the Tokyo government to resolve the issue because time was running out.
Navi Pillay, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the courageous women who have been fighting for their rights were dying one by one without having their rights restored and without receiving the reparations to which they are entitled.
She urged Japan to pursue “a comprehensive, impartial and lasting resolution” of the wartime sex slavery issue.
The commissioner’s statement was followed by landmark meetings between two Korean victims of military sexual slavery and officials from the White House and the State Department.
Paulette Aniskoff, director of the Office of Public Engagement at the White House, met Lee Ock-sun, 87, and Kang Il-chul, 86, Thursday. Aniskoff’s office said in a statement after the White House meeting that the trafficking of women for sexual purposes in the 1930s and 1940s was deplorable and a grave violation of human rights.
State Department officials also met the two women, after which its spokeswoman urged Japan to address the issue in a manner that promotes healing and facilitates better relations with neighboring states.
The developments that took place almost simultaneously should serve as a warning to Japan that the international community recognizes the sexual slavery issue as neither a bilateral issue between Seoul and Tokyo nor a bygone matter.
It’s a pity then that Japan’s cabinet minister restated Tokyo’s position that the issue was resolved through a 1965 treaty with South Korea, under which the two sides normalized relations and Tokyo provided financial compensation for its colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
What happened last week at the U.N. and the White House, which exert greater influences on global affairs than any other institutions, demonstrates that the world thinks to the contrary.
What the world thinks is, as the U.N. commissioner put it, that the sex slavery is not an issue relegated to history but a current issue, as human rights violations against these women continue to occur as long as their rights to justice and reparation are not realized.
Before visiting the White House, Lee and Kang attended a ceremony to unveil a monument honoring the victims of the sexual slavery. The monument, set up in Union City, New Jersey, is the seventh such memorial erected in the United States.
Many more such monuments will sprout in the U.S. and elsewhere and there will be more statements from people like Pillay and Aniskoff unless Japan does what it has to do.