S. Korea’s few surviving ‘comfort women’ face life’s end

SEOUL, July 2 – Fighting illness, demise and disillusionment, members of South Korea’s quickly dwindling sisterhood of surviving “comfort women” say they’re dealing with the twilight of their lives with diminished camaraderie and can to wage political battles.

Only 14 of the 240 registered survivors of Japan’s wartime brothels are nonetheless alive in South Korea, almost half the quantity who had been alive simply three years in the past.

One main group that advocated for them was introduced down by a corruption scandal final yr, and in April a South Korean court docket dismissed a case among the ladies introduced in opposition to Tokyo.

That has left the ladies extra divided than ever over whether or not to maintain looking for higher compensation and contrition from the Japanese authorities, a difficulty that has helped bitter relations between Seoul and Tokyo and introduced intense private scrutiny and controversy.

A former South Korean "comfort woman" poses for photographs at the Seoul Comfort Women Memorial in Seoul, South Korea, June 29, 2021.
A former South Korean “comfort woman” poses for pictures on the Seoul Comfort Women Memorial in Seoul, South Korea, June 29, 2021.
Reuters

“I just wish I could live at peace for one single day,” stated Lee Ok-sun, 91, who has been bedridden for years.

Under a 2015 deal Tokyo issued an official apology and supplied 1 billion yen ($9.3 million) to a fund that helps consolation ladies victims, with either side promising to “irreversibly” end the dispute, however South Korea successfully backed out of the deal after some victims stated they’d been missed.

Some historians estimate as much as 200,000 Korean women and girls had been pressured to offer intercourse to Japanese troops through the colonial period, generally underneath the pretext of employment or to repay a relative’s debt.

Former South Korean "comfort woman" Kang Il-chul speaks during an interview with Reuters at the House of Sharing in Gwangju-si, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea, May 4, 2021.
Former South Korean “comfort woman” Kang Il-chul speaks throughout an interview with Reuters on the House of Sharing in Gwangju-si, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea, May 4, 2021.
Reuters

The experiences of the ladies shouldn’t be forgotten, stated Cho Young-kun, a supervisor of the House of Sharing, which has served as a shelter for aged survivors for 26 years.

“Most of the grandmothers were born in the 1920s and just over a dozen remain nationwide,” he stated. “I’m afraid such accounts will vanish in the mists of history when the remaining ones pass away.”

After over eight a long time, the three ladies who spoke to Reuters nonetheless fought again tears when remembering their previous.

“They treated Koreans worse than a dog. They kicked and beat me up,” Kang Il-chul, 92, stated as she displayed scars on the again of her head.

Former South Korean "comfort woman" Lee Yong-soo holds the hand of a statue symbolising "comfort women" at the Seoul Comfort Women Memorial in Seoul, South Korea, June 29, 2021.
Former South Korean “comfort woman” Lee Yong-soo holds the hand of a statue symbolising “comfort women” on the Seoul Comfort Women Memorial in Seoul, South Korea, June 29, 2021.
Reuters

‘Ending the fight’

The consolation ladies – a euphemism for ladies pressured into brothels in World War 2 – have been a fixture of South Korean politics since Kim Hak-sun first got here ahead in 1991 to publicly testify of her expertise.

Since then, victims and activists have lobbied for compensation and apologies from the Japanese authorities.

A 1996 UN human rights report concluded that the ladies had been “military sexual slaves”. Japan contests that discovering, and the 2015 compensation settlement between Japan and South Korea didn’t tackle the problem of whether or not coercion was a coverage of imperial Japan.

In 2018 the South Korean authorities shut down a fund created underneath the 2015 deal and vowed to pursue a extra “victim-oriented” strategy, a transfer Japan stated threatened the 2 nations’ relations.

Former South Korean "comfort woman" Lee Ok-sun speaks during an interview with Reuters at the House of Sharing in Gwangju-si, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea, May 4, 2021.
Former South Korean “comfort woman” Lee Ok-sun speaks throughout an interview with Reuters on the House of Sharing in Gwangju-si, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea, May 4, 2021.
REUTERS

Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs didn’t instantly reply to Reuters’ requests for remark for this text.

And some say the combat is way from over. Lee Ok-sun denounced South Korea for collaborating within the Tokyo Olympics.

“Don’t go. What’s the point of going? They shouldn’t go,” stated Lee, who stated she was forcibly taken for Japan’s brothels at age 16.

Prominent activist and sufferer Lee Yong-soo, 92, was amongst these rejecting the 2015 deal, vowing to hunt a judgment from the International Court of Justice.

“I wish time would wait for me, but I know it won’t,” Lee stated. “I am determined not to die before I resolve this… I need to be alive as much as 200 years to resolve this.”

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