Unfortunately, one of the very few remaining comfort women has passed away. The 93-year-old died without a sincere apology from Japan. The issue surrounding comfort women is one of the most problematic yet important topics in Northeast Asia. As many victims of forced military sex slavery have passed away, the urgency of settling the matter is becoming ever more high. The facts of the issue are not in dispute. Japan, in its efforts for the Pacific War, built sex slavery camps within its military and coerced women from a number of countries, chiefly from South Korea and spread out among the Philippines, Taiwan, and the Netherlands, into sex slavery. After the Cold War, Japan has attempted to apologize and pay compensation for the victims many times, none of which were sufficiently sincere to satisfy the victims themselves. Even with the Korea-Japan agreement in 2015, in which Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a weak form of an apology the South Korean public and victims alike are not willing to consider the matter sealed precisely because of the lack of demonstration of sincerity.
In order to reimburse all the years of suffering for every halmony, a sincere apology is supposed to be given under a ‘victim-centered approach’ immediately. A victim-centered approach is composed of three interrelated processes. First, the politicians involved in the process must make an effort to understand the pain and suffering of comfort women, as their suffering is unique from many other types that are involved in political reconciliation. Second, the victims must be approached before international negotiation and given the opportunity to express what kind of apology they demand. Third, the civil society of both countries must also be involved in the process. There are a number of prominent and active organizations in civil society of Korea and Japan that have worked hard to resolve this issue. They must be brought into the picture if the issue is to be of lasting impact.
Se Jeong Kim, a history educator, stated, “Japan’s strategy to limit its responsibility to ethics and not law is grounded in strategic thinking. Tokyo simply does not want to open the window for claims and lawsuits on their wrongdoings.” Bomi Park, an associate of Ms. Kim, also added that “a proper apology should be made by Japan as soon as possible.”
The main problem is that the apologies given and efforts to work towards reconciliation by Japan have been seen as insincere and inconsistent, largely due to their cleverly strategic ways to not recognize their legal responsibility over the issue. This has resulted in a difficult situation where the Korean public and victims do not feel they have seen a proper apology, whereas Japanese side feels there have been way too many attempts to reconcile. In this regard, the sincere apology must incorporate the right ingredients, from admission of guilt to conviction of ‘never again.’