NCRR Statement on Comfort Woman ‘Settlement’

The Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress (NCRR) believes that the “settlement” between the Republic of Korea (ROK) and Japan does not resolve the demands of the “comfort women” for a direct apology and reparations from the Japanese government.   

While two of the most powerful men in Asia (Foreign Ministers Fumio Kishida and Yun Buyung Se) discussed and settled the agreement, none of the 46 surviving victims  were even invited to have a voice in determining justice.   

One of the most prominent and leading activists who spoke in Little Tokyo last September, “Halmoni” (grandma-surviving victim) Yongsoo Lee, denounced the agreement, stating, “This agreement seems to have been made without having the victims in mind. I dismiss it in its entirety.”  

 The $8.3 million goes into a foundation set up by the Korean  government to pay for medical, nursing and other services for the Halmonis, but it is not a direct payment to any of the victims. This amount pales in comparison to the $500 million issued by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe earlier in 2015 for international PR efforts to counter the spread of the “comfort woman” issue.   

The apology itself should have been delivered by Abe himself, not  by Foreign Minister Kishida with quotes attributed to him. It is not clear that this apology is an official position of the Japanese Diet.   

Moreover, if the governments of Japan and ROK accept the terms of the settlement (regardless of the feelings of the survivors), the Korean government would be “finally and irreversibly” gagged from speaking about what happened to the Halmonis, including raising it to the United Nations. One of the key provisions of Congressman Mike Honda’s HR. 121 stated that Japan educate the public about the issue of the “comfort women.”   

Japan has also demanded that the statue of the young “comfort woman” in Seoul be removed as a condition of the settlement exposing their desire to bury this history. It is also disturbing and reveals other agendas when Kishida continues to make references to “more cooperation on security in the region between the ROK, Japan and the U.S., now that this issue is settled.”   

The visit by Prime Minister Abe’s wife to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, where Japanese military World War II criminals are buried   

— on the same day as the settlement   

— also angered people in Korea and other Asian countries and was an insult to the survivors.   

During World War II, 120,000 Japanese Americans were unjustly incarcerated in U.S. internment camps due to race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership. Decades later, with the input of the Japanese American  community, each survivor received an official written letter of apology from the president on behalf of the U.S. Congress, and individual monetary redress, a very critical demand of the redress movement. In addition, a $5 million educational fund was established so that lessons about this tragedy could be passed down to future generations.   

In contrast, the settlement for the “comfort women” had no input from them, no monetary individual redress, an inadequate apology, and a requirement that the ROK be silent forever internationally.   

That Japan even agreed to negotiate at all is a testament to the power and perseverance of the Halmonis and to the many allies that supported their movement for full justice, including Asian Pacific Islander Congress members Mike Honda, Judy Chu and others who passed HR. 121, the many civil rights groups and even Pope Francis, who stood with the “comfort women.”  

The movement has helped to educate people worldwide who have never known about the issue before and it is a message that a small group of courageous women can make major countries take some action.   

The Halmonis were greatly disappointed but pledged to continue to work tirelessly to conduct worldwide education about the issue. NCRR will continue to support their demands for a full apology and reparations for all the comfort women survivors of World War II.   

A vigil at the statue in Glendale was held on Jan. 5. Worldwide protest rallies were held in places like Australia, Germany, France, Canada, New York, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco.