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The Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance has lost its way

15 4 8

In July 2012, I visited the Nikon Gallery space in Tokyo to view an exhibition of photographs by Ahn Sehong. The exhibition featured portraits of former Korean "comfort women" left behind in China by the defeated Japanese army in 1945, whose lives Ahn had begun documenting in the late 1990s. Under pressure from Japanese rightists, Nikon initially shut down the exhibition it had agreed to sponsor, but a successful court challenge by Ahn compelled Nikon to permit it to continue.

The photographs depicted elderly women living in impoverished conditions in often remote, rural locations. Many had no means of returning home after the war; others, knowing the ostracism they would suffer if they did return home, chose to remain. They had assimilated to their new locales, even forgetting their native language. However, in some photographs there were moving expressions of longing for a still cherished homeland: a woman posing in a well-kept hanbok, another displaying her wartime identification documents, a third reaching out to touch a map of Korea on a wall.

I left the exhibition with a deep feeling of melancholy, for women trafficked deep into a foreign nation, abandoned to their fate and then forgotten. For most of the women depicted in the photographs there was no prospect of restorative justice or repatriation, as they had since died. The only duty left to fulfill to them was to recognize their humanity, to remember and for Japanese people to atone. I suppose this was what Ahn hoped Japanese viewers would understand.

It was the aim of both restorative justice and the demand for recognition and memory that drove the foundation of the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan in 1990. This organization rose to prominence through its advocacy on behalf of Kim Hak-sun, the first South Korean to testify as a former comfort woman over the abuses she suffered in the Japanese military brothel system in World War II.

It has further cemented its role as one of the peak South Korean NGO’s for comfort women advocacy during subsequent legal actions by former comfort women against the Japanese government. Through successful campaigns and coalition building with international human and women’s rights organizations it has helped bring the plight of comfort women from Korea and from other territories occupied by wartime Japan to global........

© The Japan Times