South Korea’s Constitutional Court has rejected a petition seeking a repeal of a 2015 deal with Japan to settle ‘comfort women’ abuse allegations. The petition was an appeal by surviving women who had been forced to work in Japan’s wartime military brothels, commonly known as comfort women.
Details of the deal
These women sought to nullify an agreement between South Korea and Japan which was signed in 2015 as a settlement for claims of abuse during wartime. According to the agreement, Japan had apologized for its role in the comfort women abuse and agreed to fund a foundation in South Korea to support the living victims. As much as $8.3 million have been pledged for the said foundation. The deal was signed by the South Korean president at the time, Park Geun-hye, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as a major step towards reconciliation between the neighboring countries.
The deal was countered by a lawsuit by the former comfort women and their family members, as they sought to repeal the agreement on the grounds of seeking further reparations from the Japanese government. The plaintiff in the lawsuit argued that the South Korean government had sealed the deal without the survivors’ consultation, thereby violating their right in seeking protection from the state. “This could have been an opportunity to address their pain,” said Rhee Dong-joon, a lawyer representing the women.
Wartime history brought to light
Between 1932 and 1945 women from Korea, China and other occupied countries were forced to become military prostitutes. According to state news agency, Kyodo, the Japanese government provided one comfort woman for every 70 soldiers during the Second World War. There were at least 200,000 such women, with a great majority originating from Korea which was then a Japanese protectorate.
In the 1990s, Korean feminist leaders helped some 200 Korean survivors come forward to reveal the horrors of their exploitation. These women outlined six demands for the Japanese government:
- Acknowledge that the comfort women were forcibly taken away.
- Issue a public apology.
- Conduct an investigation to discover what really happened and disclose the findings.
- Construct a monument to commemorate the victims.
- Pay compensation to the victims or their surviving heirs.
- Establish educational programs to raise awareness of the history behind the issue.
By 1997, most mainstream publishers of Japanese secondary school textbooks covered the subject but as of 2017, reports have shown that none of the textbooks mention ‘comfort women.’
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