Korean 'Comfort Women' Still Protesting Decades Later

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Olivia Elswick, Asia CorrespondentLast Modified: 12:36 p.m. DST, 25 June 2014

Photo by: Melissa Wall "Unveiling of Comfort Women Memorial"SEOUL, South Korea -- Elderly Korean women (euphemistically referred to as “comfort women”) who were forced into prostitution as teenagers during WWII, have gathered every Wednesday since 8 January, 1992, outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul to protest the atrocities they faced. These demonstrations are now lauded by guidebooks and travel websites as a must-see for tourists to Seoul.

Though groups of Japanese tourists come to apologize to these determined women, the Japanese government has refused to apologize. The women are hoping the Japanese government will issue an official apology and provide reparations to those forced into sexual slavery. Japan’s response is that this compensation was settled with the 1994 “Asian Women’s Fund.” South Korea rejected the fund because it is a semi-private organization run by volunteers, and not under the authority of the government.

In 2007 the U.S. House of Representatives, passed a non-binding resolution that called on Japan to apologize for forcing these women into prostitution. In April, President Obama called on Japan to acknowledge their past wrong-doings, saying, "This was a terrible, egregious violation of human rights. Those women were violated in ways that, even in the midst of war, were shocking.” Obama also called on Seoul to look to the future and be more flexible in its relations with Japan to ensure better cooperation between the two countries.

Japan responded that the issue of wartime sex slavery is not a political or diplomatic subject. The issue is a hindrance to Tokyo’s relations with East Asia, and South Korea in particular.

Despite their dwindling numbers, with fewer than 100 Korean comfort women still alive, one survivor, Hwang Geum-joo says, ”Our numbers are dwindling every year, but we are still full of anger and they should apologize for what they did to us!” Around 200,000 women, mainly from Korea, but also from China, Taiwan, and Indonesia, were forced into brothels to serve Japanese imperial troops. Many were abducted from their homes or duped into forced prostitution after responding to calls to work as nurses and factory workers. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and other members of the political right continue to doubt these women, instead, claiming professional prostitutes staffed the brothels.

Monday, June 23, 2014, South Korea protested an appearance by Japan’s ambassador, condemning Tokyo’s review of a noteworthy 1993 apology for the wartime sex slavery. The review made the claim that there was no evidence to confirm the forced sexual misconduct.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying is also urging Japan to address the problematic history of sexual exploitation. Japan invaded China in 1937 and held an authoritarian rule for eight years.

In 2011 on the occasion of the 1,000th demonstration, the organizers erected the Pyeonghwa-bu Peace Monument, a statue of a barefooted-teenage Korean girl, with her hands in her lap, and a small bird on her left shoulder representing peace and freedom. The women offer monthly tours of the 'House of Sharing,' a benefit center for survivors of Japanese sex slavery, where many of the ladies now live.

Follow Olivia on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Asia Correspondent: @OCELswick

Will Ratko Mladić Escape Justice?

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 14:30 PM EDT, 18 May 2012

Mladić Sarajevo, 1993 (Wikipedia)THE HAGUE – It is unfortunate for the survivors of victims of the 1995 Srebrenica siege that resulted in the genocide of 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys must continue to wait for justice. The aforementioned atrocities occurred under the leadership of Ratko Mladić, former Bosnian Serb military commander.

Mladić stands accused of directing the men under his command to shoot Muslim boys and men. Many of these premeditated murders occurred at the edge of mass graves so that the victims' bodies easily toppled into gigantic holes, some of which they had dug for themselves at gunpoint.

These atrocities recall to memory some of massacres that occurred in Europe during World War II. At the start of the trial the prosecutors explained in excruciating details the horror that his victims felt and the bodily injuries they suffered at the time of their deaths. Photos of the victims were also on display.

Mladić, 70, is a shadow of his former self, but his arrogance and defiance has not dimmed in the intervening years. He has demonstrated no remorse and during the trial has displayed frequent incidents of joviality and represented insouciance and disdain for the proceedings.

Technical errors were given as the reason for the continuance of Mladić’s trial. Specifically, the prosecution reviewed a voluminous amount of evidentiary documents to determine which should be disclosed to Mladić’s defense team.

Apparently, from the millions of documents reviewed, and the thousands provided to his defense team, it was discovered that several thousand more “pages were not accurately uploaded when they were sent,” according to Frederick Swinnen, advisor to the prosecution.

Swinnen claimed that this was an honest error that was recently discovered and that corrective action is underway. This brings scant comfort to the victims who expected the first witnesses to deliver their testimony at the end of this month, 29 May 2012.

This mistake cost the prosecution dearly as the defense is seeking six months more to prepare and review all the documents required to mount a defense on Mladić’s behalf. Prior to this discovery, they had requested and been denied a three month extension.

This is not the first time that Mladić has been on trial. As we previously reported, he was brought up on charges of genocide before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, a United Nations court, which has already sentenced more than 60 defendants from the Balkan wars. The defendants in this trial, including Mladić, stood accused of orchestrating the ethnic cleansing that result in the deaths or expulsion of non-Serbians from Bosnia.

Most of the women and girls were deported, but the men were not allowed to leave with them. Over 8,000 men who remained behind were summarily massacred upon Mladić’s orders. On 26 May 2011, Serbian security forces arrested Mladić in Lazarevo, Serbia. He had eluded apprehension for 16 years despite a large monetary award for his capture.

He has been indicted on 11 counts of charges including war crimes, crimes against humanity and two counts of genocide. The defense entered a plea of not guilty despite video tape footage of Mladić leading the men under his command on a 44-month siege of Sarajevo, in which 10,000 people died.

Mladić claims that he was not their commander and that he did not authorize the ethnic cleansing measures that resulted in the death of so many Muslim men. He attributed the carnage to mercenaries and radical fringe groups whose nationalism erupted and resulted in the expulsion and murder of the Serbian Muslims.

However, a July 11th video clearly refuted his claims of innocence. In the footage Mladić in his general’s uniform entered a deserted Srebrenica on foot, urging soldiers to advance and congratulating them. During the next 5 days, the ethnic cleansing campaign continued despite global outcry and in the end those not fortunate enough to have escape were buried in mass graves or their bodies left to rot in the deserted streets.

We hope that justice delayed does not result in justice denied for this would be the greatest tragedy of all.