GENEVA, March 5 (Yonhap) – South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se slammed Japan Wednesday for denying its wartime atrocities of sexually enslaving Korean women, calling on it to strive for a swift resolution on the issue.
Yun’s tougher message to Japan came amid Tokyo’s continued rightward moves to whitewash its history of sexual atrocities during World War II in order to normalize its limited military capacities.
Japan’s Shinzo Abe government has even recently gone as far as to say that it will review the authenticity of a 1993 statement that acknowledges and apologizes for Japan’s forced wartime sexual enslavement of Korean women. Japan ruled the Korean Peninsula as a colony from 1910-1945.
“Such an attitude is an affront to humanity and disregards the historical truth,” Yun said in a keynote speech at the 25th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
“This is not only a bilateral issue between Japan and other victimized countries ... but it is also a universal human rights issue, an unresolved issue still haunting us today,” he stressed.
Citing the Japanese Vice Education Minister’s recent remarks that labeled the so-called “comfort women” issue a fabrication, Yun said, “It is an added insult to the honor and dignity of those victims who had weathered physical and psychological pain in their lifelong haunted memories.”
“In addition, it is a direct challenge to consistent recommendations to Japan made by various UN mechanisms for the last 20 years,” the minister added.
It was the first time that a South Korean foreign minister has attended the UN human rights council since 2006. Yun is also the country’s first top diplomat to raise the issue on the UN stage.
Historians say up to 200,000 women, mostly Koreans, were coerced into sexual slavery for Japanese soldiers during World War II.
Japan’s repeated attempts to deny its sexual atrocities have further frayed already icy bilateral relations between Seoul and Tokyo. Japan has snubbed South Korea’s repeated calls for the resolution of the grievances of the victims through compensation and a sincere apology.
Yun also urged Japan to face up to history and strive to resolve the issue of wartime sexual slavery “drafted by the Japanese imperial armed forces,” pointing out that “the prevalent sexual violence in armed conflicts even in this century is attributable to the culture of impunity and the failure in ensuring accountability.”
“The starting point of the prevention of human rights violations is for countries to admit past wrongdoings, take responsibility for such deeds and educate the correct history to the future generations,” Yun said.
“Without repenting for past wrongdoings, a brighter future will not be secured.”
In an interview with Yonhap News Agency following the address, Yun said his message to Japan, delivered unprecedentedly on the international arena, will “be a crucial chance for South Korea to cooperate with the international community to persuade and press Japan” on the issue.
“One of the major reasons that I made the speech was to make it clear that continued moves by Japanese politicians to deny history constitute a challenge to the opinions of the international community,” he said, expecting his message to further raise international awareness on the comfort women issue.
“I hope Japanese politicians take action with sincerity to resolve the matter,” Yun added.
During the keynote speech, the minister also called for the international community’s efforts to help improve dire human rights conditions in North Korea, and commended a UN Commission of Inquiry’s recent report revealing the North Korean regime’s brutal rights violations.
“We hope the DPRK to take substantive measures toward this end, recognizing the Commission’s call to improve its human rights situation,” Yun said.
The DPRK, or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, is North Korea’s official name.
South Korea will support the UN’s tougher measures against Pyongyang’s crimes against humanity, Yun said, also calling on concerned countries to stop repatriating North Koreans who flee the communist country.
“Even at this very moment, scores of North Koreans are leaving the DPRK in search of freedom. We call on all countries to uphold the principle of non-refoulement and to grant rightful protection to these refugees and asylum-seekers, so that they can live a life of dignity on their own will,” Yun noted.
The minister also urged the communist country to resolve humanitarian issues such as unions of separated families during the 1950-53 Korean War, as well as repatriating South Korean nationals and soldiers abducted by the North.
“Capitalizing on the momentum of the recent reunion of separated families, we call upon the DPRK to make efforts to seek resolutions such as regular exchanges before it is too late.”