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U.N. panel finds sex slave deal wanting

The women’s rights committee in the U.N. released a report Monday which stated that Seoul-Tokyo’s Dec. 28 agreement on comfort women had failed to adopt a “victim-centered” approach, reigniting a feud here over the controversial deal on Japan’s sexual slavery of Korean women during World War II.

The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women pointed out what it viewed as insufficient in a concluding observation on the women’s rights issue in Japan. In the report, the committee also expressed regret towards recent comments by Tokyo officials and leaders regarding the country’s responsibility towards comfort women.

The U.N. body urged Tokyo to ensure that its leaders do not make disparaging statements toward victims. It also called for compensation, an official apology, rehabilitative services for the victims and assurance that the implementation of the bilateral agreement would “take due account of the views of the victims/survivors.”

In Seoul, Minbyun, or Lawyers for a Democratic Society, urged Japan on Tuesday to address the issue of its wartime slavery of Korean women, calling the bilateral agreement void on basis of the U.N. group’s report.

The group added that the U.N. body’s statement effectively nullifies the much-disputed agreement.

“This recommendation encompasses the most powerful and comprehensive content than any of the previous ones, which urged Japan to take sustainable measures on the comfort women issue including punishing those responsible and compensating victims,” said attorney Kim Ki-nam of Minbyun, in a press conference jointly held with The Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan that represents a group of surviving comfort women.

One of the surviving comfort women, Gil Won-ok is slated to visit the Japanese embassy in Washington to protest the Dec. 28 agreement. She and members of the council will also visit the U.N. headquarters in New York to submit a complaint on the comfort women issue.

The surviving victims and related civil groups have criticized the agreement for omitting Tokyo’s recognition of its legal responsibility for running the military brothels.

Minbyun and the council also took issue with the Korean government which had recently deleted descriptions about “comfort women” from sixth-grade elementary school textbooks. The Education Ministry said that mentioning sex slavery was not age-appropriate.

Adequate integration of the comfort women issue in textbooks was one of the key points in the recommendations made to Japan by the U.N. committee.

The Park Geun-hye administration, which has boasted the agreement as “a feat not accomplished by any of the previous administrations,” fired back Tuesday by saying that it had done its best to reflect the opinions of the sex slavery victims.

“As we mentioned before, the Japanese government has acknowledged its responsibility (for the sex slavery) for the first time, and an official public apology was released on its prime minister’s behalf. We also got Japan to agree on funding our foundation (for the comfort women),” a Foreign Ministry official said.

Japan had agreed to provide 1 billion yen ($8.84 million) from state coffers for the foundation.

The Japanese government also said that they cannot accept the U.N. committee’s recommendation, adding that it failed to sufficiently reflect the country’s explanation of the agreement.

It claimed that the deal was widely welcomed by the international society including the U.S., the U.K. and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. 

By Yoon Min-sik