|Gil Won-ok, one of the survivors of Japanese military's sexual slavery, thanks protestors for participating in the 1400th weekly protest in front of the former Japanese embassy in Seoul, Wednesday, asking them to "fight to the end." Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul|
By Lee Suh-yoon, Hong Seo-hyun
The 1,400th weekly protest against Japan's wartime sex slavery drew thousands of protesters to the "comfort woman" peace statue in Seoul, Wednesday, amid heightened Tokyo-Seoul tensions over trade and wartime forced labor of Koreans during the 1910-45 Japanese occupation.
Amid scorching heat that rose to 35 degrees Celsius, protesters repeated their calls for the Japanese government to accept full legal responsibility and reparation duties for the crimes it committed against the Korean population during its colonial occupation.
President Moon Jae-in, too, too, showed his support for a victim-centered resolution to the sex slavery issue.
"From the perspective of universal human rights, we will continue sharing the sex slavery issue as a matter of peace and women's rights with the international community," he wrote in a Facebook post Wednesday morning.
This week's rally happens to coincide with the International Memorial Day for former sex slaves, which marks the first public testimony against Japan's wartime sex slavery in 1991 by activist Kim Hak-sun.
Park Min-hee, a 40-year-old office worker, said she came to the Wednesday protests whenever she could make it, even during her lunch break.
"I participate when I have time off work. I thought I should take the time to come today, as this year marks the 100th anniversary of the March 1st Movement," she said.
|A rally participant holds the hands of Kil Won-ok, one of the survivors of the Japanese military's sex slavery, at Wednesday's rally. Kil thanked the protesters and asked them to "fight to the end." / Yonhap|
|The crowd at Wednesday's rally from above. / Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul|
Lee Ji-o, a high school student, volunteered at Wednesday's rally, passing out water bottles to other protesters.
"I took interest in the comfort women issue through a history club at school that I've been participating in for three years. My first Wednesday rally was in middle school and I plan to participate even after I go into university," he said.
The weekly protests ― dubbed the "Wednesday rally" ― first began in January 1992 and continue to this day outside the former Japanese embassy site. In 2011, the well-known "peace statue" of a sitting victim was set up in front of the embassy.
Ryota Sono, 38, a Japanese journalist who took part in Wednesday's protest says he has participated in similar rallies in Osaka.
"I think Japan should take responsibility for what they have done to their former colonies," he said. "I've never been to Seoul during the 14th and 15th (of August), and I thought by participating, we (Japanese and Koreans) would be able to connect. There are also other Japanese people participating in the rally today although it's hard to spot them because they're spread out."
Sono also added he supported the boycott movement in Japan, saying he too was "a victim of the Fukushima incident."
"I also want people to boycott the Tokyo Olympics, and I support the boycott movement in Korea," he said.
In a show of solidarity, 53 sister rallies took place on Wednesday in 36 other cities in Korea and abroad, according to organizers.
|Japanese protesters at Wednesday's rally in Seoul hold up a sign that says "Abe should resign." / Korea Times photo by Hong Seo-hyun|
|Protestors hold up hand-made placards at the rally. One reads: "The more you try to erase (historical truth), the more it will spread." / Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul|
According to a 1996 U.N. human rights report, around 200,000 women were forcibly drafted into Japanese military brothels between 1932 and 1945.
Of some 240 South Korean women who testified on their experience of being coerced or deceived into Japanese military brothels, only 20 are still alive.
The rally took place amid an intensifying trade war with Japan. Last month, the Abe administration set up export curbs in retaliation to a series of Supreme Court rulings here that ordered Japanese firms to accept legal responsibility for their use of wartime forced labor and compensate the remaining South Korean victims.
Tokyo maintains wartime issues like sex slavery and forced labor were settled by a 1965 bilateral treaty. At the time, dictator Park Chung-hee was avidly seeking out foreign investment and Japan provided $300 million in aid and a $200 million loan for the half-settled treaty. According to a 1966 CIA report, Park's Democratic Republican Party also received two-thirds of its funding from Japanese firms in the years between 1961 and 1965. The Korean Supreme Court ruled last year that the 1965 treaty does not override individuals' right to seek compensation.
Similarly, in 2018, the Moon Jae-in administration shut down a Japan-funded foundation set up by former President Park Geun-hye that was supposed to be a "final and irreversible" settlement on the sex slavery issue. The deal had been heavily criticized for not requiring official reparations or legal responsibility from the Japanese government.