By Park Sojung
SEOUL, June 24 (Yonhap) — Japan’s policy regarding its past sexual enslavement of Korean women has gone 20 years backwards, a U.S. scholar who started a worldwide campaign on the issue said Wednesday.
More than 200,000 women, mostly Koreans, were sexually enslaved by the Japanese during the war, according to historians.
Several Japanese politicians, most notably Yohei Kono and Tomiichi Murayama in the 1990s, have made statements admitting to Japan’s war crimes and apologized. But these statements have been overturned by their successors, including the current prime minister, Shinzo Abe.
“In 1993, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono made his remarks and of course many of us said that wasn’t enough,” Alexis Dudden told Yonhap News Agency in an interview. “Now we’re all desperate to bring that back, which is crazy.”
She was referring to the landmark statement in which Kono admitted that these women, euphemistically called “comfort women,” had been coerced. Prior to that, Japan had denied its involvement in the recruitment of sex slaves.
Alexis Dudden, a history professor at University of Connecticut, speaks to journalists in Seoul on April 28, 2015. (Yonhap)
Dudden is best known for starting a signature campaign earlier this year in which more than 450 academics around the world called on Japan to stop disputing the facts of its wartime sexual enslavement of women.
Academics who joined in her calls were not only historians, but also professors in political science, literature and religious studies, among other disciplines.
Their joint statement came a week after Abe refused to offer a clear apology during his speech before the U.S. Congress.
Abe denies Japan ran a system of military brothels mobilizing coerced women.
Dudden says the fact that these atrocities have already been published, documented and acknowledged as the truth makes Abe’s denial of history “even more bizarre.”
“You can make it temporarily impossible to tell a story, but you can never silence the story,” she said.
Only 50 former sex slaves remain alive in South Korea today.
The House of Sharing, a shelter for these women just outside of Seoul, announced Tuesday that it has decided to take the matters into its own hands and lodge a civilian suit against Japan in the U.S.
The defendants include the family members of then Japanese Emperor Hirohito, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japanese firms that enslaved Koreans for forced labor during the war and Sankei Shimbun, a Japanese daily that has called former sex slaves “prostitutes” in its articles.
Japan claims all reparations for its past colonization of Korea were paid in 1965 when the two countries signed a normalization treaty.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the restoration of ties between South Korea and Japan.