On April 21, the Seoul Central District Court dismissed the lawsuit filed by the victims of the Japanese military sexual slavery system against the Japanese government.
In 2016, ten surviving victims and ten family members of the deceased victims filed for court mediation seeking 100 million won (approximately US$91,000) each for damages incurred from the Japanese government. The plaintiffs include the late Bok-Dong Kim (1926–2019) and Yeah-Nam Kwak (1923–2019). Out of the ten victims that filed the lawsuit, only four surviving victims remain alive, including Yong-Soo Lee (b. 1928).
Contrary to what Justice Kim Jeong-gon had decided on January 8, 2021, Presiding Judge Min Seong-cheol accepted the Japanese government’s claim for “state immunity” that exempts a state from the court of another state. This ruling is a grave regression from the historic ruling made by the Seoul Central District Court on January 8. This ruling fails to grant the rights of the victims of Japanese imperialism and state-sanctioned sexual slavery. It ignores the international trend of placing human rights over national interests. Instead of declaring that state immunity does not extend to crimes against humanity, this ruling opened the door for such a dangerous possibility. This ruling also casts dark doubts about one important principle that all individuals have equal access to justice.
This ruling ignores the South Korea Constitutional Court’s ruling on August 30, 2011. The South Korea Constitutional Court ruled that neglecting the problems of “comfort women” and Korean atomic bomb victims was a state violation of the victims’ basic human rights.
In a joint statement, denouncing this legal and historical regression, a network of activists stated, “We will not be dejected by today’s ruling. We will continue our legal struggles to demand the South Korean Court to rule on truth and justice.”
After the ruling, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga made religions offerings to a Tokyo Yasukuni shrine.*
*Yasukuni Shrine commemorates those who died in service of Japan since 1869. In the late 1970s, convicted WWII Class-A war criminals were added to the shrine.
Peace Statue exhibition at Dresden National Art Collection in Germany: Speechlessness—The loud Silence
On April 15, the National Art Collection of Dresden, Germany, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen held the unveiling ceremony of the Peace (Girl) Statue. This bronze statue is a replica of the Peace (Girl) Statue installed in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, Korea in 2011. Another Peace (Girl) Statue on display at the museum is a replica of the statue placed on a bus seat to mark the 5th International “Comfort Women” Day in Seoul on August 14, 2017. Kim Seo-Kyung and Kim Un-Seong are sculptors of both statues.
This is the first time that two statues symbolizing the victims of the Japanese military sexual slavery system before and during WWII have been displayed in a museum in Europe. These two statues are part of the multi-media exhibition Sprachlosigkeit—Das laute Verstummen (‘Speechlessness—The loud Silence’ in English) highlighting egregious violence, including the Nazis’ killing of Jews and the Yugoslav Civil War. In responding to the question about this exhibition’s purpose, Director of the Saxon Ethnological Collection in Dresden Léontine Meijer van Mensch said, “Through this exhibition on ‘comfort women,’ we want the victims and their families of all forms of sexual violence to break their silence and share their experiences.”
Working closely with the museum, the Korea Verband, e.V. added these two statues and stories of “comfort women” to this exhibition displayed at Japanischer Palais in the museum: Kim* Hak-Soon’s testimony is included in this exhibition. Nataly Han, chairwoman of the Korea Verband, said that “comfort women” issues are basic human rights issues, not [political] issues between Korea and Japan.
The entire exhibition runs from 4/16 to 8/1, and the bronze statue of a young girl placed in the atrium of the collection will continue to be on display for a year. Click the museum site Museum der Trostfrauen (“Comfort women” Museum) for more information.
*In Korean, the last name comes before the first name.
At this year’s Association for Asian American Studies Conference, ESJF organized the panel discussion From Berlin to California: Unsettling Histories of Military Sexual Violence Through Interconnected Memorials, Intersectional Resistance, and Transnational Organizing.
Chairwoman of Korea Verband, e.V., Nataly Jung Hwa Han discussed the grassroots efforts of activists and citizens in Germany to address sexual violence and installation of the Peace (Girl) Statue in September 2020. Eric Mar, a former member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors discussed unsettling histories of military sexual violence through interconnected memorials, intersectional resistance, and transnational organizing. In addition to providing a brief overview of “comfort women” history, I discussed the significance and relevance of applying the lessons learned from this dark history as a way to promote women’s human rights and empowerment.