[Editorial] Government’s responsibility toward ‘comfort women’
Yesterday, the Constitutional Court confirmed that it is in violation of the Constitution for the government not to make efforts to resolve the compensation claims from former “comfort women,” who had been coerced to serve as sex slaves for the Japanese military during World War II. Though belated, this is a highly significant ruling. Over the years, the government has been very passive in its interpretation of the 1965 Korea-Japan Basic Treaty and avoided taking any action of the women’s demands. With this ruling, it can no longer avoid taking direct measures.
In its ruling, the Constitutional Court made it clear that the government held responsibility, writing that the women’s “dignity as human beings was mercilessly and continually violated, and the government’s refusal to take measures despite the pressing nature of the issue, with their advanced age making recovery impossible in the event of a delay, is a violation of the Constitution.” In particular, it commented that the government held some responsibility for this “after applying the blanket concept of ‘all claims’ without specifying the nature of claims” in signing the 1965 Korea-Japan Basic Treaty.
In the past, the government has demurred with arguments about the “possibility of escalating into a wasteful legal battle” or “disruption of diplomatic relations,” but the Constitutional Court declined to accept this reasoning, arguing that this “cannot be viewed as a national interest that must be considered seriously.”
The former comfort women have fought a difficult battle, the pain of being forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese military at a young age forever engraved on their hearts. They have demanded an official apology and compensation from the Japanese government and punishment of those responsible. Today sees their 985th weekly Wednesday Demonstration in front of the Japanese Embassy to South Korea. Of the 234 former comfort women registered with the South Korean government in the past twenty years, only 79 are still alive.
The disinterest of the South Korean government has caused as much pain to these women as the disregard coming from Japan, the party responsible. The South Korean government has made no diplomatic efforts to address their suffering, leaving the resolution of the issue for the victims themselves to handle. Nor has it contributed any assistance for the War and Women’s Human Rights Museum, which civil society is seeking to establish in order to let future generations know about the lives of comfort women and the history of the movement to address their issues.
The South Korean government needs to respond to this ruling by actively considering the establishment of a special body for the resolution of the comfort women issue, as civic and social groups have been demanding. It also needs to engage in official diplomatic discussions on the issue with Japan, affirming the legal responsibility of the Japanese government and enabling an official apology and compensation to take place. This is the only way to heal the wounds of the former comfort women and establish a new relationship between South Korea and Japan based on true reconciliation.
Court says Seoul's inaction over former 'comfort women' unconstitutional
SEOUL, Aug. 30 (Yonhap) -- A top South Korean court said Tuesday that it is unconstitutional for the government to make no tangible effort to settle disputes with Japan over its refusal to compensate Korean women mobilized as sex slaves during its 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
The Constitutional Court ruled in a 6-3 vote that the government violated the basic rights of the former "comfort women" with its inaction.