On August 14, hundreds of people paid memorial to “comfort women” — women who were forced to serve as prostitutes to the Japanese army during World War II. It was South Korea’s first “Memorial Day for Japanese Forces’ Comfort Women Victims,” Reuters reported, and came exactly 27 years after Kim Hak-sun publicly announced she had been a comfort woman, breaking decades of silence about the wartime atrocity, in 1991.
The protests came amid months of mounting pressure on Abe’s conservative government to do more to acknowledge the comfort women. According to experts, three quarters of the 200,000 or so comfort women died in captivity, and those who survived were likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder even 60 years after the war.
In South Korea, people gathered near a bronze monument to comfort women that stands just outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul, holding candles and cutouts of yellow butterflies, a symbol of freedom from violence for the women affected. More than 50 activists gathered outside the de facto Japanese embassy in Taipei, Taiwan, wielding posters with the face of the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the Chinese characters for “apologize.” In the Philippines, activists held rallies in Manila calling on the Japanese government to issue a formal apology to Filipino women enslaved by the Japanese army.
Japan, though, says it has already done its part. Following a series of class-action lawsuits in 2015, the Japanese government signed a deal with South Korea in which it issued a formal apology and provided $8.3 million in reparations to survivors. Both governments said the agreement would be the “final and irreversible resolution” to the issue, but recent polls suggest that a majority of South Koreans think that the deal was insufficient, the Diplomat reported. Japan has yet to strike similar deals with other countries where women were forced into service as comfort women, including China, the Philippines, Singapore and Malaysia.
In March, South Korean President Moon Jae-in described Japan’s wartime use of comfort women as “crimes against humanity.” While he refrained from formally calling for the deal to be renegotiated — it was struck by his predecessor, Park Geun-hye — he said that “to resolve the comfort women issue, the Japanese Government, the perpetrator, should not say the matter is closed.” Moon’s remarks prompted a sharp rebuke from Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who described them as “extremely regrettable,” Reuters reported.