‘Sex Slaves’ Conference to Be Held in May

By Byun Duk-kun, The Korea Herald, 18 March 2004

An international conference of comfort women who were forced into sex slavery by the Japanese army during World War II will be held in Seoul in May, the South Korean branch office of an international coalition for comfort women said on Sunday.

More than 300 people, including former sex slaves of South and North Korea, China, Taiwan and the Philippines, will participate in the international conference to discuss ways to overcome the vestiges of the Japanese colonial rule from May 20 through 22.

Until now discussions on the Japanese colonial history have been held separately based on the issue. The international conference will be an opportunity to discuss thoroughly and systematically on a variety of issues, Yang Mi-kang, chairperson of the South Korean branch of the international coalition, said.

The coalition, established in Shanghai in September 2003, is an alliance of organizations working for victims of Japanese war crimes such as sex slaves and forced laborers.

Yang said the conference will serve as an opportunity to discuss a wide range of issues related to the Japanese colonial rue.

Representatives of five participating countries including Japan will hold a representatives' meeting on the first day of the meeting at the Seoul Women's Plaza in Taebang-dong, Seoul.

The participants will then hold discussion sessions on a number of issues including the independence movement during the Japanese colonial rule, sex slavery, distortion of Japanese history books and the forced laborers for the following two days and will adopt a joint statement at the closing of the conference on May 22.

On May 23, the South and North Korean organizations will hold a special session to increase interchange and cooperation between the two sides and visit the Sodaemun prison, at which most independence fighters were detained during the Japanese colonial rule of the Korean peninsula from 1910 through 1945.

The North Korean side has yet to decide how many participants it will dispatch to the international conference in the South, but the South Korean branch office of the coalition said the North has already decided to join its forces.

The North Korean side has already notified that it will dispatch a group of North Korean comfort women. They will establish a review committee this month to finalize the formation of their group, consisted of 10 to 20 people, Yang said.

The international conference also comes amid the heightened interest of the people on the issue of the nation's comfort women. A South Korean celebrity, Lee Seung-yeon, had earlier this month offended a large number of people and former South Korean comfort women by announcing a nude photo project based on the women's experience.

Lee scrapped her nude photo project after a number of civic organizations including Chongdaehyop, the Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, strongly protested the project arguing it is only a business venture.

Established in 1992, Chongdaehyop has been holding protest rallies in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul every Wednesday for the past 14 years to demand the Japanese government pay reparations for South Korean females who were brutally interned as sex slaves by the Japanese army during World War II.

The civic organization, however, failed to receive any response from the Japanese government. The group has been blaming the low interest on the issue by the South Korean public as one of the reasons for the ignorance by the Japanese government.