[News on Korea] I’m Sorry I Took So Long To Get Here
The 28th of December, 2015, an agreement between Korea and Japan on the comfort woman issue was announced. It was described as “final and irreversible”. Both governments settled the issue: Japan gave one billion yen to support the comfort women, stating "deep responsibility" for the issue; Korea considered removing the girl statue, and agreeing not to criticize the issue again.
While the governments praised themselves for finally settling the issue, many people felt rage. The demands from the “comfort women” have been very clear for the past 24 years; the agreement met none of these. The demands were for the Japanese government to: acknowledge the war crime, reveal the truth about the crimes of military sexual slavery, make an official apology and legal reparations, punish those responsible for the war crime, record the crime in history textbooks, and erect a memorial for the victims of the military sexual slavery and establish a historical museum. Since then people have started one-person demonstrations next to the girl statue denouncing the agreement and demanding its abolishment; college students have begun guarding the statue 24 hours a day.
On Wednesday, January 27, I participated in the Wednesday rally. I arrived a little early and there were already many people including lots of teenagers. Standing in front of the Japanese Embassy at the 1,215th Wednesday rally, I faced grandma Lee Yong-soo and the girl statue for the first time. As tears welled inside me, I uttered to the girl, “I’m sorry I took so long to get here.” It’d been going on for 24 years - the longest running struggle in the world - and this was my first time here.
The girl statue was covered with warm clothes and surrounded by gifts from people. Students were participating in the Wednesday rally. Sorrow turned to urgency. Grandma listened sitting among the crowd in the sidewalk surrounded by skyscrapers. I've heard how giving their testimonies over and over is painful for the grandmas. Now, people stood on stage denouncing the crimes Japan committed in the past and demanding both governments rectify it. As I listened to the people, I also looked over at Grandma Lee. She closed her eyes and looked calm. I couldn't imagine the pain it must have been causing her. This issue should be resolved as soon as possible so that Grandma Lee no longer needs to come out to the street to retell her past. In the rally, students denounced the government and promised that they would fight.
At the end of the rally, grandma Lee stood up and gave a speech about how the both governments infringed on their human rights and that she will continue to fight until the end. She looked strong and firm, and so did those around her. After the rally, people lingered waiting until grandma Lee left so that they could share a moment with the girl statue. While I was waiting with the crowd, I saw a girl in a school uniform quietly crying. The girl must have been the same age as grandma Lee when she was dragged to Japan as a military sex slave. Looking at the girl crying, I sensed hope. Grandma Lee shared her pain with the girl; the girl would do the same for her generation.
What is irreversible is the scar and pain grandma Lee and other have carried for years; the agreement between both countries made without consulting the victims is not. I felt sorry and rage at first but the feelings were replaced with hope. Like grandma Lee said, I believe the truth will win. Until then people including me will fight with the girl statue and the 40 comfort women still alive. To those who think it is too late, I say, ““It is not too late. Come and join the fight. Let’s make the truth win.”
written by Jeongeun Hwang(General Secretary, ISC)