SEOUL, July 2 – Combating illness, demise and disillusionment, members of South Korea’s quickly dwindling sisterhood of surviving “consolation ladies” say they’re going through the twilight of their lives with diminished camaraderie and can to wage political battles.
Solely 14 of the 240 registered survivors of Japan’s wartime brothels are nonetheless alive in South Korea, practically half the quantity who had been alive simply three years in the past.
One main group that advocated for them was introduced down by a corruption scandal final 12 months, and in April a South Korean courtroom dismissed a case among the ladies introduced towards Tokyo.
That has left the ladies extra divided than ever over whether or not to maintain in search of larger compensation and contrition from the Japanese authorities, a problem that has helped bitter relations between Seoul and Tokyo and introduced intense private scrutiny and controversy.
“I simply want I might dwell at peace for one single day,” mentioned Lee Okay-sun, 91, who has been bedridden for years.
Beneath a 2015 deal Tokyo issued an official apology and supplied 1 billion yen ($9.3 million) to a fund that helps consolation ladies victims, with each side promising to “irreversibly” finish the dispute, however South Korea successfully backed out of the deal after some victims mentioned they’d been neglected.
Some historians estimate as much as 200,000 Korean women and girls had been pressured to supply intercourse to Japanese troops in the course of the colonial period, typically beneath the pretext of employment or to repay a relative’s debt.
The experiences of the ladies shouldn’t be forgotten, mentioned Cho Younger-kun, a supervisor of the Home of Sharing, which has served as a shelter for aged survivors for 26 years.
“Many of the grandmothers had been born within the Nineteen Twenties and simply over a dozen stay nationwide,” he mentioned. “I’m afraid such accounts will vanish within the mists of historical past when the remaining ones move away.”
After over eight many years, the three ladies who spoke to Reuters nonetheless fought again tears when remembering their previous.
“They handled Koreans worse than a canine. They kicked and beat me up,” Kang Il-chul, 92, mentioned as she displayed scars on the again of her head.
‘Ending the combat’
The consolation ladies – a euphemism for ladies pressured into brothels in World Battle 2 – have been a fixture of South Korean politics since Kim Hak-sun first got here ahead in 1991 to publicly testify of her expertise.
Since then, victims and activists have lobbied for compensation and apologies from the Japanese authorities.
A 1996 UN human rights report concluded that the ladies had been “army sexual slaves”. Japan contests that discovering, and the 2015 compensation settlement between Japan and South Korea didn’t deal with the problem of whether or not coercion was a coverage of imperial Japan.
In 2018 the South Korean authorities shut down a fund created beneath the 2015 deal and vowed to pursue a extra “victim-oriented” strategy, a transfer Japan mentioned threatened the 2 international locations’ relations.
Japan’s Ministry of International Affairs didn’t instantly reply to Reuters’ requests for remark for this text.
And a few say the combat is way from over. Lee Okay-sun denounced South Korea for taking part within the Tokyo Olympics.
“Don’t go. What’s the purpose of going? They shouldn’t go,” mentioned Lee, who mentioned she was forcibly taken for Japan’s brothels at age 16.
Distinguished activist and sufferer Lee Yong-soo, 92, was amongst these rejecting the 2015 deal, vowing to hunt a judgment from the Worldwide Court docket of Justice.
“I want time would await me, however I do know it gained’t,” Lee mentioned. “I’m decided to not die earlier than I resolve this… I have to be alive as a lot as 200 years to resolve this.”