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Korean 'Comfort Women' to Demonstrate on Dec. 10
Survivors of Japanese military sexual slavery seek support on Human Rights Day
Michael Solis (msolis)     Print Article 
Published 2008-12-08 17:01 (KST)   
A Wednesday protest by 'comfort women' in Seoul
©2008 Angela Lytle
One Korean girl who was with us once demanded why we had to serve so many, up to 40, men per day. To punish her for her questioning, the Japanese company commander Yamamoto ordered her to be beaten with a sword. While we were watching, they took off her clothes, tied her legs and hands and rolled her over a board with nails until the nails were covered with blood and pieces of her flesh. In the end, they cut off her head. Another Japanese, Yamamoto, told us that 'it's easy to kill you all, easier than killing dogs'. He also said 'since those Korean girls are crying because they have not eaten, boil the human flesh and make them eat it'.

-- (Chong Ok Sun's testimonial from the UN Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy)
Dec. 10 marks the 60th anniversary of International Human Rights Day, commemorating the United Nations' adoption and proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. In 1950, the UN General Assembly invited all states and interested organizations to celebrate the day as they saw fit.

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For the halmoni (grandmothers) of Korea, though, Dec. 10 marks yet another one of their weekly protests in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul.

The halmoni, along with other subjugated women in Asia, were forced to serve as sexual slaves for the Japanese military beginning in the 1930s until the end of World War II. It is estimated that up to 200,000 women were forced to be "comfort women," with as many as 80 to 90 percent coming from the Koreas.

Survivors of Japanese military sexual slavery, led by the remaining seven halmoni who reside in the House of Sharing outside Seoul, have been protesting every Wednesday since 1992. Their numbers have dwindled slowly over time while the Japanese government has waited silently, deliberately ignoring the women's demands for an apology and reparations.

A modest crowd usually gathers to protest with the halmoni during the one-hour, weekly protests. Demonstrations that take place during weeks with special significance -- e.g. anniversaries, International Women's Day, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, etc. -- usually draw more supporters to aid the grandmothers' cause.

The anniversary and protest come in light of recent, increased commitment from the United Nations to combat the phenomenon of sexualized violence in war practiced throughout the world. In June, a Security Council resolution demanded the "immediate and complete cessation by all parties to armed conflict of all acts of sexual violence against civilians," expressing its deep concern that, despite repeated condemnation, violence and sexual abuse of women and children trapped in war zones had reached "appalling levels of brutality."

In November the UN Human Rights Committee called upon the Japanese government to restore dignity to the surviving halmoni, expressing its concern for Japan's failure to accept responsibility for the "comfort women" system. Responding to the women's demands, the Committee recommended that Japan accept legal responsibility and apologize for its system of military sexual slavery in a way that is acceptable to the victims and restores their dignity. The Committee also calls for the prosecution of surviving war criminals, the education of students and the general public about the issue, and the refuting or sanctioning those who defame the victims or deny the abuses they suffered.

The recommendation follows resolutions passed recently by the US, Canada, the Netherlands, and states of the European Union urging Japan to explicitly admit to the past atrocities and offer a genuine, public apology.

According to Korea-based human rights activist Angela Lytle, a Japanese response to the demands of the halmoni is vital if Japan is to commit to established international human rights standards.

"The fight to have women's rights recognized as human rights is a recent victory, if it can yet be counted as a victory at all," Lytle stated. "Any brief perusal of global statistics shows that violence against women in its myriad forms is still pervasive throughout women's lives in all parts of the world."

Citing United Nations Population Fund statistics, Lytle reported that as many "as one in every three women worldwide has been beaten, coerced into sex, or abused in some other way -- most often by someone she knows, including by her intimate partner or another male family member."

"The legacy of the UDHR will only become meaningful when all genders within the global population are indeed treated as 'human'," Lytle added.

As the halmoni gather yet again to courageously affirm their rights, share their stories, and demand what is long overdue, they will be doing so under a global spotlight. Now that the world is placing more pressure on the Japanese government to respond appropriately to the "comfort women" issue, the halmoni hope that anyone who understands the horrors that suffered -- the same horrors that millions of women continue to suffer -- will come to the protest to lend their hands, voices, and hearts.
Organizers of the Dec. 10 demonstration seek to gather as many Korean and foreign nationals as possible to support the surviving halmoni in their quest for an apology from the Japanese government. The embassy is located in Jongno near Insadong, and the protest will take place from 12 p.m. until 4 p.m.

If you would like to learn more about the demonstration or find a way to help by demonstrating or offering your musical or other talents, please write to wedprotest@houseofsharing.org.
©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Michael Solis

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