SEOUL: “We want the people to know what the Japanese did to us.
“We demand an apology and legal compensation from the Japanese government”.
These were the resolute words of Kang Il-Chul, 92, one of six surviving South Korean “comfort women”, currently living at the House of Sharing in Gwangju, some 30km from here.
The House of Sharing, which was established and privately-funded in the early 1990s when the issue of Japanese army sexual slavery began to gain attention in Korean society, is a shelter for surviving comfort women.
The oldest comfort woman there is 103 years old. Kang moved in in 2000.
Comfort women were girls and women who were abducted and forced to become sexual slaves by the Japanese army in occupied territories before and during World War II.
It is estimated that there were 200,000 comfort women from Korea. However, only 240 women have come forward to confirm the claim.
Aside from the six women living at the House of Sharing, 14 other former comfort women are known to be still alive in South Korea.
Many were killed during the war, while others committed suicide out of humiliation. Others were not brave enough to admit what had happened to them.
Women in Malaysia were also not spared from being comfort women during the Japanese occupation of the country during World War II.
Despite suffering from dementia, Kang still remembers vividly how the Japanese army took her away when she returned home from school one day, at the age of 16.
She was then taken to China by the Japanese army.
Even though she wanted to return to Korea after the war ended, she could not. It was only in 1993 that she managed to return home following a foreign agreement between South Korea and China.
Kang has testified against the Japanese government, but her advanced age has prevented her from continuing to do so.
“The Japanese came to Korea (then) took and destroyed everything valuable to us.
“We don’t know why the Japanese government is not apologising.
“I know you are all here to help us. Thank you, thank you so much,” she told Asian journalists during a visit to the House of Sharing.
Journalists from eight countries are participating in the 2019 Kwanhun-KPF Press Fellowship here.
The New Straits Times was selected to represent Malaysia in the month-Long fellowship this year.
Others media representatives are from Brunei, Cambodia, India, Myanmar, Mongolia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
According to House of Sharing director Ahn Shin-Kwon, the surviving comfort women are still active because they want to recover their honour.
He said that there is not much evidence left of the comfort women, as the Japanese had “destroyed” them, and its government is refusing to provide evidence to prove that the comfort women existed.
“So, we are dependent on the comfort women’s testimonies, confessions of Japanese military and data from a university professor in China.
“Kim Hak Soon is the first comfort woman who claimed to be a victim of the Japanese army’s atrocity back in Aug 14, 1991, before others did the same,” he added.
Ahn noted that the comfort women at the House of Sharing used to attend a weekly Wednesday demonstration, but not anymore.
The demonstration was the central force in their push for justice.
The first demonstration began in Feb 1, 1992 and gained international attention. Up to 1,400 demonstrations were held over 27 years.
Ahn said that the comfort women will not stop fighting for their cause as long as there is no official apology from the Japanese Prime Minister, and legal compensation from the Japanese government.
“All those in the House of Sharing will not accept any form of compensation.
“They just want an official apology from the Japanese Prime Minister, as well as legal compensation, which can’t be counted in terms of money.
“In Dec 2015, the Japanese Foreign Minister did apologise. However, the comfort
women refused to accept it, as it did not come from the Prime Minister and it did not contain any of their o
pinions. For them, it was not democratic at all,” he added.
Ahn said that the comfort women and those supporting their cause are highlighting this as a broader female rights issue, but the Japanese want to minimise it, saying it is a Korea-Japan relationship issue.
“There is no stopping them. Many people may not be aware of our story. The comfort women want the world to know through movies, literature as well as statues.
“We want this to be resolved. No woman should be a victim in future, in case a war breaks out, but we hope there will be no war,” he said.
Ahn said they had applied to Unesco to register some 2,744 pieces of data as evidence of the comfort women’s suffering.
They are still waiting for Unesco’s response.