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‘Comfort woman’ requests meeting with President Moon to take sex slavery issue to ICJ

Lee Yong-soo, a victim of Japan's wartime sexual slavery, speaks during a press meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul on Wednesday, after meeting Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong. (Yonhap)
Lee Yong-soo, a victim of Japan's wartime sexual slavery, speaks during a press meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul on Wednesday, after meeting Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong. (Yonhap)

Lee Yong-soo, one of 15 surviving South Korean “comfort women,” on Wednesday requested a meeting with President Moon Jae-in in order to take the issue of Japan’s wartime sexual slavery to the International Court of Justice for a resolution. 

The 92-year-old’s request came during her hourlong meeting with Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong, in what was the minister’s first meeting with a sexual slavery victim -- euphemistically known as comfort women -- since taking office last month. 

“I asked the minister to let me meet President Moon soon, so he can convince Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to take the matter to the ICJ for a verdict,” Lee told reporters after her meeting with Chung at the Foreign Ministry. 

In response, Chung had told Lee that he will try his best, and “carefully” review whether to take the issue to the international court. 

Lee stressed that what she demands from Japan is not financial reparation, but an apology -- adding she is ready to offer her forgiveness when Tokyo apologizes.

“I want to let Japanese students know why ‘comfort women’ was established, and through exchange with Japan become closer with the country,” she said, expressing her hope to establish a center for history education. 

Since last month, Lee has been calling for Seoul to take the thorny issue that has undermined relations with Tokyo to be settled in the UN’s highest court while the remaining victims are still alive. It would mean the issue could be resolved permanently and the two neighbors could “live in peace with each other,” Lee said. 

Her plea came as the “comfort women” issue came to the fore again amid a lingering feud between Seoul and Tokyo stemming from a court ruling in January. It was also followed by a controversy surrounding a Harvard professor who caused public outcry over his paper defining victims as prostitutes. 

In January a Korean court ordered the Japanese government to pay damages to a group of Korean survivors for the mental distress and financial losses they suffered as a result of Japan’s wartime atrocities. Tokyo, however, dismissed the ruling -- as it had dismissed past lawsuits against the country over wartime crimes -- and accused Seoul of violating its sovereign immunity, a principle of international law that prevents one country from being sued by another without its consent. 

Lee’s call for the case to be heard in The Hague appears to be a last-ditch effort to put an end to the decadeslong conflict, as it has become clear that the issue cannot be resolved through diplomatic talks or domestic court proceedings. 

But taking the case to the world court would require consent from both countries, with observers saying that both Seoul and Tokyo are likely hesitant at this time on bringing the issue on the international stage.

By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)
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