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  • <Commentary W> Amid moves to improve relations between Japan and South Korea, the issue of the installation of comfort women statues remains unresolved.
<Commentary W> Amid moves to improve relations between Japan and South Korea, the issue of the installation of comfort women statues remains unresolved.
A comfort woman statue that had been installed on the grounds of the State University of Kassel in central Germany was removed on the 9th of this month. The statue was installed in July last year by students of the university in collaboration with the German Korean civic group "Korea Council". The Hankyoreh, a South Korean newspaper, said, "There are claims that the Japanese government's constant pressure was behind the removal."

The comfort women statues set up by South Korea and Korean civic groups to highlight the comfort women issue are now spreading all over the world. The first comfort woman statue was installed in December 2011. It was placed in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul by the former comfort women support group, the Volunteer Corps Issue Council. It was set up to commemorate the 1,000th meeting held by the organization every Wednesday (Wednesday rally) to call for a solution to the comfort women issue. At first, Chong Dae Hyup made a request to the mayor of Jongno-gu, Seoul, to erect a monument to comfort women in front of the Japanese Embassy. According to South Korean media reports at the time, the mayor of the ward is said to have expressed the view that a road-only permit is required for monuments, but that statues can be regarded as works of art, so there is no problem.

However, building on a public road violates not only Korean law, but also the Vienna Convention, which guarantees the dignity and function of diplomatic missions, to build it in front of the Japanese embassy. Since then, the Japanese government has expressed regret over the installation of the statue, and has repeatedly requested the South Korean government to remove it.

In 2017, Jongno-gu passed an amendment to the "Urban Spatial Art Ordinance," placing the comfort women statue under the jurisdiction of the district as a "public object." As a result, if the statue is to be relocated or removed, it must follow the decision of the ward's Urban Spatial Art Committee, and the statue has not been removed to this day.

Since then, the statue has been installed not only in South Korea but also in other countries such as Germany and the United States by local Korean civic groups.

A comfort woman statue was also installed on the campus of the University of Kassel in Germany last July. A Korean sculptor donated the statue after a group of students told the Korea Council that they wanted to install it. Inscribed on the statue in German are the words, "A space of memory to mourn the suffering of victims of sexual crimes during war."

However, in September last year, the university president notified the Korea Council to remove the statue. In the same month, when a South Korean civic group visited the site to deliver a list of the statue's backers, the Korea Council claimed that the Japanese government's request for the removal of the statue was behind the president's notification of the statue's removal.

The statue was removed on the 9th of this month. In a statement, the university explained the reason for the removal, "because the deadline for installation has expired." The deadline for installing the statue was extended by seven months from the original schedule.

South Korea's former comfort women support group "Justice Remembrance Solidarity to Solve the Problem of Japanese Military Sexual Slavery" issued a press release on the 10th, claiming that the Japanese government's pressure was behind the removal of the statue, and the Japanese government. He took the position of denouncing the

In Germany, a statue of a girl symbolizing comfort women was installed in September 2020 under the leadership of the Korea Council on public land in the Mitte district of Berlin, but it is expected to continue until a new monument is built. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida requested Prime Minister Scholz's cooperation in removing the statue at the Japan-Germany summit meeting in April last year. It was extremely unusual for the prime minister himself to directly request the removal of the statue. However, it is believed that the Japanese government felt a sense of crisis that if Germany, a major European country, allowed the installation of the statue as it is, a false history could take root in the international community. Chancellor Scholz's reaction was not favorable, however, as the statue was under the jurisdiction of Mitte and the German government had little room to intervene.

In October 2020, the mayor of Mitte once ordered the statue to be removed, but he claims that ``this statue has the theme of sexual violence against women during wartime, and is not specific to Japan.'' The order was rescinded after a strong protest from the Korea Council. After giving permission to install the statue for one year, the ward decided to extend the installation period in August 2021. The Japanese government has lodged a protest with the German side, including the ward, and is demanding that it be removed as soon as possible.

The 2015 agreement between Japan and South Korea, which confirmed the "final and irreversible resolution" of the comfort women issue, states that the two countries will refrain from criticizing each other in the international community. Regarding the historical issue between Japan and South Korea, the Korean government announced on the 6th of this month a solution to the former forced labor lawsuit. On the 16th of this month, President Yoon Seo-gyul visited Japan and held a Japan-South Korea summit. Great progress has been made toward improving Japan-South Korea relations, but there are still many pending issues between Japan and South Korea, including not only the issue of forced labor, but also the issue of comfort women, including the installation of statues.

Published : 2023/03/23 12:52 KST

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