SEOUL, Mar. 8 (Korea Bizwire) — Japan has rejected calls from South Korea to include content related to so-called ‘comfort women’ in school textbooks.
The request from Seoul to include information about comfort women in government-approved public education guidelines was met with a cold shoulder, Japan’s Sankei Shimbun reported earlier this week.
The South Korean delegation for the third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Japan called on the Japanese government to teach students about historical facts, including comfort women, during the session held in Geneva, Switzerland last November.
The Japanese government’s decision not to shed light on the issue of comfort women in a broad context in textbooks put the two countries on a collision course, as South Korean education authorities have brought back the term ‘comfort women’ in new elementary school textbooks for social science classes.
A new social studies textbook for sixth grade students, which will be used from the spring semester, contains an image of victims of wartime sexual violence taken in September 1944 by an American soldier and captioned ‘Comfort Women for the Japanese Army’, under the description that all women including South Koreans in Japanese colonies were captured forcibly and experienced enormous pain, the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union (KTU) said on Monday.
The term ‘comfort women’ was not used for the past four years in elementary school social science textbooks under the Park Geun-hye administration, as the previous edition only mentioned that ‘women were forcibly captured by the Japanese army during war and experienced pain’ without the use of the term.
Speaking to the press, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the clear statement of comfort women in textbooks reflects the government’s ‘continuing efforts to leave the issue as a historical lesson’ for future generations.
Despite signing an agreement to resolve the comfort women issue, the underlying difference in their approach to the matter has driven a wedge between the two countries.
In a commemorative speech for the 1919 March 1st Independence Movement this month, President Moon Jae-in said, “Inhumane violation of human rights during war cannot be absolved by saying it is over,” while calling the controversial agreement ‘seriously flawed’.
“A true resolution only comes from remembering history and learning from that history, especially when it is history of an unfortunate past,” Moon added
Moon’s speech drew immediate criticism from Japan, with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga calling the president’s remarks ‘extremely regrettable’.
Contrary to the comfort women agreement signed in 2015, which acknowledges involvement of the Imperial Japanese army in ‘leaving a deep scar in the dignity of many women’, Japan’s responsibility has been denied by government officials on multiple occasions.
In a statement during the 37th session of the Human Rights Council, Manabu Horii, Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, said, “the forceful abduction of comfort women by the military and government authorities could not be confirmed in any of the documents in this study.”
Horri also took issue with South Korean foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha’s use of the expression ‘sex slaves’ in an earlier speech, and said the term contradicts the facts and should not be used.
Takashi Shinozuka, Japanese consul general in Atlanta, came under fire last year after reportedly portraying the victims of Japan’s wartime sexual slavery as ‘paid prostitutes’ during an interview with the Reporter Newspapers, and calling a memorial honoring comfort women a ‘symbol of hatred and resentment against Japan’.
Last November, a total of 218 non-legally binding recommendations were issued by the U.N. Human Rights Council Working Group during the 28th session of the UPR, reflecting China and North Korea’s calls on the Japanese government to apologize and pay compensation to comfort women, which have been rejected.
Hyunsu Yim (firstname.lastname@example.org)