Statements on the Comfort Women issue

Yun Byung-se and Fumio Kishida
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida (r) with his Korean counterpart Yun Byung-se

Statements published jointly today by the Japanese and South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs aim to bring closure to the issue of wartime sexual slavery.

The Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan also published a statement on the inter-governmental announcements, which says that the issue is by no means closed.

All statements are reproduced here.

On the Korean MOFA website, a transcript of a statement to the press:

Remarks at the Joint Press Availability

December 28, 2015

Minister Yun:

Good afternoon. Today, I had in-depth consultations with Minister Kishida on matters of mutual interest, including the “comfort women” issue.

First of all, I would like to thank Minister Kishida for taking the time out of his busy schedule to attend this meeting today.

As you are well aware, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties between Korea and Japan. My government has been sparing no efforts to work out an early resolution of the “comfort women” issue, the most crucial history-related issue between Korea and Japan, in this historic year.

In particular, thanks to the political decision made by President Park and Prime Minister Abe at the November 2nd summit to “accelerate consultations to settle the ‘comfort women’ issue at the earliest possible date, bearing in mind that this year marks a turning point in the relations between the two countries as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties,” bilateral consultations have been further expedited centering around the Director-General level meetings as
a major channel.

Minister Kishida and I held an intensive round of consultations today, based on the results of the consultations held through various channels, including yesterday’s 12th Director-General level meeting.

As a result, we have been able to reach an agreement acceptable to both sides. So, here today, we would like to announce the results of our meeting today.

First, Minister Kishida will state the position of the Government of Japan on today’s agreement on behalf of the Government of Japan, and then, I will share with you the position of the Government of the Republic of Korea.

Minister Kishida:

The issue of “comfort women” has been intensively discussed so far between Japan and Korea, including through the Director-General level meetings. Based on those outcomes, the Government of Japan states the following.

The issue of “comfort women” was a matter which, with the involvement of the military authorities of the day, severely injured the honor and dignity of many women. In this regard, the Government of Japan painfully acknowledges its responsibility.

Prime Minister Abe, in his capacity as Prime Minister of Japan, expresses anew sincere apologies and remorse from the bottom of his heart to all those who suffered immeasurable pain and incurable physical and psychological wounds as “comfort women.”

The Government of Japan has been seriously dealing with this issue, and on the basis of such experience, will take measures with its own budget to heal the psychological wounds of all the former “comfort women.”

More specifically, the Government of the Republic of Korea will establish a foundation for the purpose of providing assistance to the former “comfort women.” The Government of Japan will contribute from its budget a lump sum funding to this foundation. The Governments of Korea and Japan will cooperate to implement programs to restore the honor and dignity and to heal the psychological wounds of all the former “comfort women.”

Along with what was stated above, the Government of Japan confirms that through today’s statement, this issue will be finally and irreversibly resolved on the condition that the above-mentioned measures are faithfully implemented. Also, the Government of Japan, along with the Government of the Republic of Korea, will refrain from mutual reprobation and criticism in international forums, including at the United Nations in the future.

Regarding the above-mentioned budgetary measure, the expected amount will be around 1 billion Yen. What I have stated is the outcome of consultations held under the instruction of the leaders of both countries, and I am confident that Japan-Korea relations will thereby enter a new era.

Minister Yun:

Now, I would like to state the position of the Government of the Republic of Korea on today’s agreement.

The issue of “comfort women” has been intensively discussed so far between Korea and Japan, including through the Director-General level meetings. Based on those outcomes, the Government of Korea states the following.

The Government of the Republic of Korea takes note of the statement by the Government of Japan and the measures leading up to the statement, and, along with the Government of Japan, confirms that through today’s statement, this issue will be finally and irreversibly resolved on the condition that the above-mentioned measures stated by the Government of Japan are faithfully implemented. The Government of the Republic of Korea will cooperate in the measures to be taken by the Government of Japan.

The Government of the Republic of Korea is aware of the concern of the Government of Japan over the memorial statue placed in front of the Embassy of Japan in Seoul with respect to the maintenance of the peacefulness and respectability of its mission, and will make efforts to appropriately address the concern, including through consultations with relevant groups on possible responses.

The Government of the Republic of Korea, along with the Government of Japan, will refrain from mutual reprobation and criticism in international forums, including at the United Nations in the future, on the condition that the measures stated by the Government of Japan are faithfully implemented.

This concludes the position of the Government of the Republic of Korea.

I am very pleased to announce here today that, working together, Minister Kishida and I have finally wound up the long and difficult negotiations on this issue before the end of this year, the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties between Korea and Japan.

I sincerely hope that the measures to follow up on today’s agreement will be faithfully implemented and thereby restore the honor and dignity and heal the psychological wounds of the victims who have had to endure so many years of agony.

It is also my sincere desire that, with the conclusion of the negotiations on the “comfort women” issue, the most challenging and difficult issue over history between Korea and Japan, we will be able to open a new chapter in the Korea-Japan relations in the new year with a new spirit of cooperation.

On the Japanese MOFA website, an official statement along the same lines:

Announcement by Foreign Ministers of Japan and the Republic of Korea

28 December

1. Foreign Minister Kishida

The Government of Japan and the Government of the Republic of Korea (ROK) have intensively discussed the issue of comfort women between Japan and the ROK at bilateral meetings including the Director-General consultations. Based on the result of such discussions, I, on behalf of the Government of Japan, state the following:

(1) The issue of comfort women, with an involvement of the Japanese military authorities at that time, was a grave affront to the honor and dignity of large numbers of women, and the Government of Japan is painfully aware of responsibilities from this perspective. As Prime Minister of Japan, Prime Minister Abe expresses anew his most sincere apologies and remorse to all the women who underwent immeasurable and painful experiences and suffered incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women.

(2) The Government of Japan has been sincerely dealing with this issue. Building on such experience, the Government of Japan will now take measures to heal psychological wounds of all former comfort women through its budget. To be more specific, it has been decided that the Government of the ROK establish a foundation for the purpose of providing support for the former comfort women, that its funds be contributed by the Government of Japan as a one-time contribution through its budget, and that projects for recovering the honor and dignity and healing the psychological wounds of all former comfort women be carried out under the cooperation between the Government of Japan and the Government of the ROK.

(3) While stating the above, the Government of Japan confirms that this issue is resolved finally and irreversibly with this announcement, on the premise that the Government will steadily implement the measures specified in (2) above. In addition, together with the Government of the ROK, the Government of Japan will refrain from accusing or criticizing each other regarding this issue in the international community, including at the United Nations.

2. Foreign Minister Yun

The Government of the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the Government of Japan have intensively discussed the issue of comfort women between the ROK and Japan at bilateral meetings including the Director-General consultations. Based on the result of such discussions, I, on behalf of the Government of the ROK, state the following:

(1) The Government of the ROK values the GOJ’s announcement and efforts made by the Government of Japan in the lead-up to the issuance of the announcement and confirms, together with the GOJ, that the issue is resolved finally and irreversibly with this announcement, on the premise that the Government of Japan will steadily implement the measures specified in 1. (2) above. The Government of the ROK will cooperate in the implementation of the Government of Japan’s measures.

(2) The Government of the ROK acknowledges the fact that the Government of Japan is concerned about the statue built in front of the Embassy of Japan in Seoul from the viewpoint of preventing any disturbance of the peace of the mission or impairment of its dignity, and will strive to solve this issue in an appropriate manner through taking measures such as consulting with related organizations about possible ways of addressing this issue.

(3) The Government of the ROK, together with the Government of Japan, will refrain from accusing or criticizing each other regarding this issue in the international community, including at the United Nations, on the premise that the Government of Japan will steadily implement the measures it announced.

Two real life Comfort Women embrace embrace the statue of their younger selves opposite the Japanese Embassy in Seoul
Two real life Comfort Women embrace embrace the statue of their younger selves opposite the Japanese Embassy in Seoul (Source: BBC)

And finally, the statement published on the Facebook page of the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan.

The Official Statement from the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan regarding the Agreement on the Military Sexual Slavery (“Comfort Women”) Issue during the Korea-Japan Ministerial Meeting

28 December 2015

Today’s meeting between the foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan concluded with an agreement on the resolution for the military sexual slavery issue. The survivors of the “Comfort Women” system as well as the Korean citizens sincerely hoped for the rightful resolution on the issue through this meeting, on the year which marks the 70th anniversary of Korea’s independence.

The Agreement specified that: first, Japanese government feels its responsibilities for the military sexual slavery; second, Prime Minister Abe apologizes as the representative of the Japanese government; and third, the Korean government establishes a foundation where Japanese government provides the funding while the two governments collaboratively manage initiatives.

Although the Japanese government announced that it “feels [its] responsibilities,” the statement lacks the acknowledgment of the fact that the colonial government and its military had committed a systematic crime. The government had not just been simply involved but actively initiated the activities which were criminal and illegal. Also, the apology was not directly made by the Prime Minister himself as the official representative of the government but was read by a diplomatic representative, while it was unclear to whom he was actually apologizing. Hence it is hard to believe if it was a sincere apology.

In addition, the announcement specified that Korean government will be responsible for establishing the foundation, despite the fact that Japanese government must be actively involved in follow-up initiatives, including acknowledgement of its criminal responsibilities and legal reparations. It appears that Japan will pass the future responsibilities on to the government of the victims’ country after simply paying off the money. Also, it is notable that the Agreement did not specify anything on preventative initiatives such as truth seeking and history education.

The Korean government’s attitude towards this Agreement, which is vague and incomplete, is rather shocking. The government concurred that this Agreement represents a “final, irreversible” settlement of the issues, as long as the Japanese government is committed to the due diligence in the future. Meanwhile, the Korean government promised that it will seek a resolution for the matter of the Peace Monument in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul in order to maintain the dignity of the Embassy, and will limit its criticism against Japanese government internationally. This is a diplomatic humiliation.

The Korean government accepted the Japanese government’s absurd condition on the Agreement which demanded the removal of the Peace Monument. Moreover, the attitude of the former which declared that it will not even mention the military sexual slavery issue in the future is shameful and disappointing.

The Peace Monument cannot be a condition or means for any Agreement. It is a public property and a historic symbol representing the peaceful spirit of the Wednesday Demonstrations, which has been continued by the survivors and the citizens for over a thousand Wednesdays. The Korean government cannot mention anything about the removal or moving of the Monument. While the survivors and the civil society cannot accept the Agreement, the governments cannot push their own agenda. Such an act of arrogation only adds to the pain of the victims even more.

All these years, the survivors, supporting civil society organizations and citizens demanded that Japanese government acknowledge its national, legal responsibilities clearly and commit to due diligence in order to recover dignity and human rights of the survivors and prevent any such tragedy in the future. However, the Agreement today is only a diplomatic collusion which betrays the demands from all.

The military sexual slavery issue must be resolved to bring true friendship and peace between Korea and Japan while more survivors are still alive. However, this cannot be rushed while defying proper principle and common sense.

In 2012, the 12th Asia Solidarity Conference for the Resolution of the Military Sexual Slavery by Japan Issue adopted recommendations for the Japanese government to commit to its governmental, legal responsibilities. In order to make such a commitment actually happen, the Korean Council will continue to work tirelessly with the survivors and the domestic and international civil society.

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