A civic group that advocates for Korean victims of wartime sexual enslavement by Japan is facing controversy, after a victim accused the group of misappropriating donations and exploiting the victims for their cause for nearly 30 years.
The Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, which holds weekly rallies demanding an apology and reparations from Japan, denied the allegations, saying donations have been used “transparently” and spent on the victims.
“How donations were used is being verified by regular financial auditing and being made public through formal procedures,” the Korean Council said, adding that the funds and donations were delivered to the victims.
Lee Yong-soo, a 92-year-old victim of Japanese military sexual slavery during Japan’s 1910-45 colonization of the Korean Peninsula, said Thursday that she will no longer participate in the weekly rallies, which have become a symbol of the victims’ fight for justice against Japan’s wartime atrocities.
“The Wednesday rally should not be held anymore. It is not helpful at all. We don’t even know where the donations from the students are spent,” Lee said during a press conference in the southeastern city of Daegu.
“I don’t even know that cash is coming in, but the collected donations and funds have never been spent on the victims,” she said of the donations the civic group collects from students and others who attend the Wednesday rallies.
The Korean Council said the donations are used to financially support victims living in shelters, to restore the human rights of the victims by raising international awareness of the issue and to finance other activities such as the Wednesday rallies, litigation by the victims against the Japanese government and related content creation.
Lee has been at the center of the rallies, which have been held every Wednesday since 1992 in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.
The Park Geun-hye administration signed a deal with the Japanese government in 2015 to settle the issue. Under the deal, which the two sides called “final and irreversible,” Japan apologized to the victims and provided 1 billion yen ($9.4 million) for a South Korea-run foundation.
The Korean Council and some of the victims, including Lee, have protested the deal, saying the government failed to consult with the victims in advance and address their demands.
Lee’s claims came after Yoon Mi-hyang, former president of the Korean Council, was appointed to a proportional representation seat in the parliament by the ruling Democratic Party.
“Yoon Mi-hyang should come resolve the comfort women issue. She should not serve as a member of the National Assembly. She should solve this problem,” Lee said, countering Yoon’s claim that she had Lee’s support for her candidacy for parliament.
Yoon herself expressed regret and denied the allegations in a Facebook post.
Lee and Yoon are “comrades” with a relationship like “mother and daughter,” the Korean Council said, adding that Lee may have felt sad and disappointed about Yoon leaving the organization to serve as a lawmaker.
“The victims including Lee and the council have been connected through hearts to hearts and activities to activities, beyond being blood related, in the 30-year campaign history,” the Korean Council said. “We (the activists) have never forgot, even for a moment, our respect and gratitude for the victims.”
Historians estimate that up to 200,000 women, mostly from Korea, were forced to work in front-line brothels for Japanese troops during World War II. Only some 19 of the 240 victims registered with the government are still alive.
By Ock Hyun-ju (firstname.lastname@example.org