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UNESCO ‘strongly regrets’ Japan not fulfilling pledges on forced labor issue

Hashima Island, also known as Battleship Island, off the coast of Nagasaki. (Yonhap)
Hashima Island, also known as Battleship Island, off the coast of Nagasaki. (Yonhap)

A UNESCO committee on Monday expressed strong regrets over Japan not fulfilling its pledge to honor victims of wartime forced labor at an information center on its industrial revolution site registered on the World Heritage List. 

Japan opened the Industrial Heritage Information Center last year, introducing 23 modern Japanese Meiji-era sites added to the UNESCO World Heritage List, including the notorious Hashima Island, also known as Battleship Island, where many Koreans were forced into labor during World War II.

Japan had promised to showcase a display honoring Korean victims of forced labor when the sites were listed in 2015, but the new center only highlighted Japan’s industrial accomplishments. 

The World Heritage Committee, along with the International Council on Monuments and Sites, or ICOMOS, have inspected the information center in early June, to check whether Japan implemented the committee’s earlier calls to acknowledge the victims. 

In a report released on the World Heritage Committee’s website on the inspection results, it said the committee “strongly regrets” that Japan has “not yet fully implemented the relevant decision.”

It also requested Tokyo to fully take into account the committee’s conclusion of its inspection. Recommendations include Japan taking “measures that allow an understanding of a large number of Koreans and others brought against their will and forced to work under harsh conditions,” as well as continuing dialogue with concerned parties, such as the Korean government. 

A Foreign Ministry official noted that it is rare for an international organization to use such strong language as “strongly regret,” which shows that the international community has affirmed that Japan failed to implement its promises. 

“We expect Japan to take specific steps for the implementation, starting with improving the Tokyo information center,” the official said, adding the government will keep a close eye on the matter. 

The report is expected to be adopted at the upcoming 44th annual session of the World Heritage Committee, slated to run virtually July 16-31.

Seoul had initially opposed inscribing the Japanese sites to the World Heritage List, saying Koreans were forced into hard labor at seven of the 23 Meiji sites during Japan’s colonial occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945.

Amid fierce public outcry here, the Japanese government had pledged it would take necessary steps, including establishing an information center to commemorate the forced labor victims and provide the full history of the sites.

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