South Korea

The “Comfort Women.”

The “Comfort Women” were Korean women forced into sex slavery by the Japanese during World War II. Some of these women are still alive, and demand both recognition and high level acknowledgment and apologies for their abduction, enslavement, and great suffering in the name of the Japanese people as well as reparations for their ruined lives.

Beginning in 2003, the Center met with the Japanese and the Korean sides of this conflict.

In the summer of 2004, ICfC staff conducted additional visits to non-governmental organizations in South Korea and Japan.  Productive discussions with the lay and professional leadership enabled us to develop valuable perspectives on how different sets of activists view the conflicts with Japan around this issue, and the opportunities for resolution.

ICfC also played a “shuttle diplomacy” role in the course of these meetings, sharing information with the Korean and Japanese parties about their counterparts in the other country who were visited shortly before and thereafter. Through these meetings, the Institute connected with and encouraged chosen individuals, those who seemed to have the best opportunity and ability to communicate their positions effectively, articulately, and diplomatically to the other side.  Discussion topics included restorative justice and reparations, health insurance, apologies, and commemorations.

While the then-recent incidents of riots in China may be instigated by government officials, they are clearly sustained by pervasive popular sentiments. These incidents confirmed ICfC’s fears of reservoirs of hatred, deep and broad, among Japan’s neighbors. Korea is no exception, even while we see many promising signs of cooperation between these two nations. Claims were made that the historical issues are “peripheral” and will soon be forgotten and that the real indicators of relations are to be seen in the volume of trade and exchanges on the popular level involving culture and athletics.  These claims must be called into question by the popular expressions of hatred.

In regard to the Comfort Women issue specifically, time was of the essence. This issue will not be forgotten and it is exactly the sort of historically based resentment that could precipitate violence long after the last victim is around to press claims.  The issue of ruined sexuality and its effect on national consciousness is a possible future that benefits no one. If the Japanese Government were to acknowledge what was perpetrated to the actual victims with apologies, as have been offered in the past by Japanese Prime Ministers in their own names and with compensation, and as has been offered by Japanese NGOs, this could strengthen the ties between these two neighboring countries and prevent this incendiary conflict from being reignited in the future.

ICfC aimed to be in dialogue with all sides, share ideas, test their acceptability, and provide motivation and consultation to all sides in working toward consensus. ICfC played the role of the unencumbered outsider, free from local intrigues and resentments.  We wanted to establish new channels of communication that heretofore have not existed.

For more information on this project, contact Hillel Levine, President, at hlevine@centerforconciliation.org
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