A 1.5m-tall (5ft) bronze statue of a girl in traditional Korean attire, sits in front of the Japanese Consulate in Busan, fists-clenched and face resolutely looking onto the Consulate building. A provocation for Japan, but a symbol of rebellion for hundreds of thousands of women
Mahin Siddiki – TDO – An estimated number of 200,000 ‘comfort women’ were forced to work in military brothels in Japan during World War Two. Many of these ‘comfort women’ were women from Korea, along with women from China, Indonesia, Taiwan and the Philippines.
The plight of these women, and the injustice and brutality they faced is represented by the ‘comfort women’ statue, which was first installed by survivors and their supporters in 2011 in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul. Since then, numerous ‘comfort women’ statues have popped up around the world, as a reminder of the injustice faced by these women.
Japan had been half-hearted and reluctant to acknowledge the existence of these brothels in their military camps, where women were repeatedly raped and sexually abused and often were infected with sexually transmitted diseases and suffered from genital wounds. However, after the 2011 installation of the statue, the issue of ‘comfort women’ was reopened, and the first state apology was issued.
Last year, Japan apologized again, and opened a fund of 1bn yen ($8.6m) to support the Korean ‘comfort women’. However, the decision was reached without consulting the surviving victims and didn’t provide direct compensation to them. Furthermore, it took away an acknowledgement of legal responsibilities on the side of Japan. The deal was therefore criticized heavily from advocating groups for the victims.
On the 28th of December, 2016, a ‘comfort women’ statue was installed by protesting groups in front of the Japanese Embassy in Busan in response to the deal struck a year before. Initially, the statue was removed by the police, but after outcry from protestors, authorities re-installed the statue in Busan.
The statues have been a constant source of irritation for Japan.
In response, Japan has shown its disapproval by recently recalling two high officials from South Korea. The Japanese Ambassador designated to South Korea, and the Consulate General of Japan in Busan have been recalled.
Japan has further said that the presence of the statue violates the agreements of the deal made in 2015, which was supposed to “finally and irreversibly” resolve the issue.
Dialogues regarding currency swaps and the economic relations will also currently be halted, in response to the installation of the statue.
The Foreign Ministry of South Korea has issued a statement expressing their regret over Japan’s decisions, and have said that despite tensions between the two countries, the two nations needed to work together and find solutions to these problems in order to move forward.
Japan’s continued irritation over the statues, and its reluctance to talk with the survivors directly and make a deal which rightfully and properly serves the survivors, makes one wonder whether Japan is unable to face the consequences and weight of its past decisions.