Diplomatic “resolution” does not lead to healing or dignity: Making sense of the Japan-ROK “agreement” on “comfort women”

This week, foreign ministers of Japan and South Korea announced a bilateral “agreement” to “finally and irreversibly” settle historical disputes arising from the WWII-era Japanese imperial military enforced prostitution/sexual slavery known as the “comfort women” system. The agreement was reportedly reached under heavy pressures from the United States government, which has military pacts with both Asian nations, for its own geopolitical needs. The agreement has been widely denounced by the “comfort women” survivors and their advocates in South Korea, Japan, and elsewhere as an act of further violence to silence the survivors.

In a statement read by Japan’s Foreign Minister, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe acknowledged “the issue of comfort women” was “a grave affront to the honor and dignity of large numbers of women,” and expressed his “most sincere apologies and remorse to all the women who underwent immeasurable and painful experiences and suffered incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women.”

Abe’s apology is a reiteration of previous statements issued by the Japanese government, most notably the 1993 Kono Statement in that it accepted moral, but not legal, responsibilities for the suffering of women under the “comfort women” system. Japanese conservatives, including Abe himself, have long argued that Japanese military’s “involvement” in the atrocity was peripheral (e.g. performing medical checks at military brothels, etc.) and have rejected the notion that Japanese military itself was responsible for the trafficking and coercion of women and girls for sexual exploitation (see Dudden and Mizoguchi for a critique of Abe’s 2007 statement expressing this view, or our debunking of common revisionist talking points).

The new “agreement” does not go beyond Kono Statement in acknowledging Japanese military’s direct role in the coercion and trafficking of women under the “comfort women” system. Worse, the few remaining survivors of the “comfort women” system were cut off from the negotiation altogether, and their voices were systemically silenced. As a result, virtually none of the demands of the survivors are reflected in the final “agreement” that the Korean government accepted, supposedly, on their behalf.

Survivors and advocates continue to call on Japan to fully acknowledge Japanese imperial military’s direct culpability for the violence perpetrated against women from across Asia-Pacific, and to meet other demands of the survivors, which, according to Korean American Forum of California, include:

  1. Full acknowledgement of the military sexual slavery implemented by the Imperial Armed Forces of Japan between 1932 to 1945
  2. Thorough and complete investigation to fully chronicle the scope of the crime
  3. Formal apology from the National Assembly (Diet) of Japan
  4. Legal and full reparations to all victims
  5. Prosecution of the criminals responsible for the crime
  6. Full and ongoing education through proper recording and acknowledgement in textbooks and history books in Japan
  7. Building of memorials and museums to commemorate the victims and preserve the history of sexual slavery by the Japanese Military

For further information, please read the following:

Also: watch former “comfort woman” Lee Yong-Soo protest the Deputy Foreign Minister of Korea, with English translation, below:

One thought on “Diplomatic “resolution” does not lead to healing or dignity: Making sense of the Japan-ROK “agreement” on “comfort women””

  1. Could somebody clarify the issue of “legal responsibility”?

    Surely the decision about whether the government is legally responsible is an issue for courts to decide, not the government. My understanding is that so far, in every legal case brought, the courts have sided with the Japanese government’s view that all claims were settled by the 1965 treaty.

    Isn’t the German government’s view on *legal* responsibility for the Holocaust the same? i.e. that reparations claims were settled in the post-war peace treaties, and the compensation that has been paid to individual victims was motivated by a feeling of moral responsibility, not legal obligation?

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