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LA group representing Korea's WWII sex slaves denounces 'comfort women' deal

A statue commemorating the sexual slavery of Korean women by the Japanese army in the 1930s and World War II was unveiled in July 2013 in Glendale, Calif.
A statue commemorating the sexual slavery of Korean women by the Japanese army in the 1930s and World War II was unveiled in July 2013 in Glendale, Calif.
Melissa Wall via Flickr Creative Commons

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A Los Angeles-based organization that has been demanding an apology from Japan for its World War II-era treatment of Korean women as sex slaves — or "comfort women" — is denouncing an agreement between the governments of Japan and South Korea.

The foreign ministers of the two nations announced a landmark agreement Monday to resolve the dispute over Korean women who were forced to serve as sex slaves for Japan's Imperial Army.

According to historians, tens of thousands of so-called "comfort women" were forced to work in brothels from the early 1930s through the end of World War II. 

Victims began to come forward in the 1990s and in the years since have called on the Japanese government to accept responsibility and apologize for forcing them into sexual slavery.

As part of today's deal, Japan made an apology and promised a payment of $8.3 million, but some former comfort women disagreed with a concession from Seoul to refrain from future criticism of Japan over the issue.

In a statement, the Korean American Forum of California, an advocacy organization for victims, decried today's agreement:

"We wholeheartedly agree with the activist victims who are affectionately known as "Halmonis" or 'Grandmas,' who immediately denounced the agreement as a sham. One of the most prominent and leading activists, Grandma 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.'"

Phyllis Kim, the group's executive director in Los Angeles, told KPCC's Take Two show that the apology from Japan does not go far enough.

"What the Grandmas have been demanding during the weekly demonstrations — over 20 years in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul ... since the early 1990s — was for the Japanese government to accept official responsibility as the government who committed these war crimes against the women and forced them into this military sexual slavery, and officially apologize to them.... That is what [the Grandmas] saw as the method of recovering their dignity and human rights."

Kim said the women want an apology approved by the Japanese government as a whole, not just statements and agreements by individual government officials.

"The reason why the Grandmas have been still demanding an apology was because there was never a cabinet-approved apology," Kim said. "It was always an individual apology from individual prime ministers from time to time."

The women are also seeking reparations, she said, "to symbolize that Japan takes the full legal responsibility about what happened during the wars — exactly like what Germans did for the Holocaust."

The surviving victims are also concerned by Japan's demands in the current agreement that call for the removal of a statue in front of Japan's embassy that commemorates the comfort women, Kim said. News media in Japan have also reported demands that a similar statue in Glendale be taken down, she added.

"So, if you're apologizing for the past war crimes, and if you are willing to make reparations, why are you making a demand to something that equals erasing the history, as if to make it something that never happened?" Kim said.

"What is more important for these Grandmas is to educate future generations about what happened."

Listen to Take Two for the full discussion: