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Lys Anzia – WNN Breaking

Former 'so-called' comfort woman Hwang Keum-ja

A beautiful casket covered with multitudes of fresh flowers shows honor for Korean former ‘so-called’ comfort woman Ms. Hwang Keum-ja on January 27 only two days after a Japanese news executive downplays the suffering of those who were trapped in Japan’s field brothels during World War II. Keum-ja was a dedicated and active advocate for thousands of women who were sex-trafficked by Japan’s Imperial Army from 1937 to 1945. Image: Aririang/AVA360

(WNN) Tokyo, JAPAN, EASTERN ASIA: As the Japanese government continues to deny any need for formal investigations of war crimes involving former ‘so-called’ comfort women during the second World War, another survivor of sexual-slavery died on Sunday at the age of 89 in Seoul, South Korea. After working in a glass manufacturing plant under Japanese annexation in Korea at the age of 14, Ms. Hwang Keum-ja was forced two years later at the age of 16 to work under forced prostitution during the second World War. But Keum-ja was not alone as a Japanese victim of human trafficking.

Hwang was one of what the UN states to have been 200,000 women who faced torture under ‘forced prostitution’ and rape as part of Japan Imperial Army’s field brothels, known as comfort stations, that operated throughout Asia from 1937 to 1945. During the war years a majority of former comfort women personally described being moved from comfort station to comfort station as they were forced to follow Japan’s ongoing military campaigns. It was a grisly and terrible existence.

Only one fourth of those who were forced to work under sexual-trafficking came out alive after the end of the war.

Living out her later life as a strong human rights advocate who would protest on the street with activists every week in front of Japan’s embassy in Korea, Keum-ja continued to ask the same question, just like other Korean survivors, over and over again: When can a formal high level apology and reparation from the nation of Japan happen for women who have suffered for over six decades?

“They cried out, but it didn’t matter to us whether the women lived or died,” admitted one of Japan’s Imperial Army soldiers, 87-year-old Yasuji Kaneko, during a 2007 interview with The Associated Press. “We were the emperor’s soldiers. Whether in military brothels or in the villages, we raped without reluctance.”

The protests against human rights abuse have been met each week with a clear message in return, as all the window blinds facing the street at the Japanese embassy in Seoul are closed tight on each day when the former comfort women, and their supporters rally.

Only 55 women brothel survivors are still left living inside the Korean region today. Most of those who were once considered part of the ianfu 慰安婦, Japanese for ‘comfort women’, are now well over the age-of-80 as they watch time for justice slipping away.

But it’s not over yet say the former comfort women, along with global advocates including the United Nations, who continue in 2014 to ask Japan to accept ‘legal responsibility’ for its own history. Comfort women are considered “victims of torture” say UN experts. Under this distinction the meeting of the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) outlined clear and strong recommendations to Japan during their second May 2013 Periodic Review.

Swift legislative action from Japan’s government is needed, outlines the UN. The needs include to publicly acknowledge the legal responsibilities for the crimes of sexual-slavery, they continued. Prosecuting and punishing perpetrators must come “with appropriate penalties,” they added.

One day before Keum-ja died in a hospital in Seoul from complications under lung disease, the head of one of Japan’s largest television and radio news media network, NHK, made ad-lib remarks denying the nature of Japan’s WWII atrocities. During Mr. Katsuto Momii’s first news conference the new chairman of NHK responded to questions as he glibly described the military use of women under sexual-slavery during the war as something just “common” throughout the world.

“I believe the [comfort women] practice was employed in all regions that were at war,” outlined NHK executive chairman Momii to the press on Saturday in statements that completely side-stepped hundreds of personal accounts made by comfort women survivors who have given eyewitness accounts of their ordeals. Numerous women died in the brothels, committed suicide, or wished for death to come as they endured extreme conditions.

In what has widely been viewed as a largely unsuccessful campaign, a private formed Japanese civic organization called the AWF – Asian Women’s Fund worked from 1994 to 2005 to bring donated money from Japanese citizens to the aging former comfort women. But the attempt to quell the women’s need for government court investigations along with denial in the process of arrest of high level military official, or cooperating officers, was met with suspicion. The chance for the women to receive an official ‘State’ acknowledgement with formal remuneration from the government of Japan under admission in acts of ‘crimes against humanity’ were eclipsed as AWF described the brothel survivors as Korean ‘Teishindai’ also known in English as the “Women’s Volunteer Corps,” within AWF released claim case documents.

Today the situation in justice for former comfort women survivors has improved little as Japan’s political blocking continues.

“The Japanese government continues to stonewall numerous requests made by former comfort women, international and domestic organizations, foreign governments, the International Labor Organization, the United Nations, and the Japanese Bar Association to redress the grievances of the former comfort women for physical and emotional suffering resulting from service at the comfort stations,” says a recent November 2013 report by the Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law & Justice.

“[The issue of] comfort women is bad by today’s morals, but this was a fact of those times,” outlined Momii during his first press meeting. “Korea’s statements that Japan is the only nation that forced this are puzzling. Give us money, compensate us, they say, but since all of this was resolved by the [1965] Japan-Korea peace treaty, why are they reviving this issue? It’s strange,” he said.

Conveying that his recent comments were “extremely inappropriate” only days after taking up his new position as head of NHK, Momii has now publicly apologized for his comfort women remarks.

The statements made by Katsuto Momii probably would not have been surprising to Ms. Hwang Keum-ja who died before she had a chance to see any turn-around in Japan’s stance on the military brothels.

“For 20 years we have not heard from Japan. We want an apology and repentance,” shared Keum-ja to CNN in 2012 as she outlined the day-in-day-out suffering for those women who worked under forced labor in the field comfort stations.

Wishing her entire life that she had been able to read-and-write, Keum-ja never received a formal education.

“If I could be born again how would I like to be born? I want to be born in a family rich enough to allow me to study, because I was never able to learn,” Keum-ja shared in a 2000 interview highlighted in “Legacies of the Comfort Women of World War II.”

“Can you imagine that I can’t even write my own name? I want to learn so that I can shake the politics. I want to shake the whole world,” she added.

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