Invited to the US by the Korean American Voters’ Council, “Comfort Woman” Survivors Yong Su Lee and Ok Sun Lee with Holocaust survivor Ethel Katz, visited the Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations on December 16th at 11AM. The three women delivered petitions to the Japanese government calling for Japan’s formal acknowledgment and apology over the “comfort woman” issues.
[Photo: The group meets the Japanese officials in front of the office building.]
Before the visit, KAVC visited Japan’s Mission to give early notice on the “comfort women”‘s visit and requested that a high-ranked official be present to receive the petition. The officials became tense, and prepared for the visit planned for today.
As members of the press, supporters from the Korean community, and the three ladies arrived, the the Japanese officials requested to receive the petitions outside. However, Ms. Yong Su Lee objected to their request, saying that this cannot happen as it is very rude to stop guests at the door. The Japanese officials guided the group into the lobby of the building.
[Photo: Japan’s attempt to receive the petitions at the lobby.]
When the Japanese officials said that they will receive the petition in the lobby, Ms. Yong Su Lee sat in place and demanded to be let in to the mission’s office. The official in charge stated that they will be let in, but after conversing with the supervisors, he denied entry to reporters. They permitted entry to only seven people including the three ladies, and forced the reporters out of the building. Heeding our request, they allowed only one camera into the office.
[Photo: Before delivering the petitions, the three ladies request official apology and acknowledgement from the Japanese government.]
When the group arrived at the Japanese Mission’s Office, they stated their intent of delivering the petitions in the front of the office where the Chrysanthemum is.
Before handing over the petitions, Ms. Yong Su Lee said “Why am I a comfort woman? I am a person named Yong Su Lee. I was kidnapped when I was 15, forced to be a comfort woman, and lived alone until I grew old. Japan must make reparations and apologize immediately.” She continued on saying, “I protested for twenty years in front of the Japanese embassy but haven’t received a response. The Japanese government must repent and the emperor must apologize to me on his knees.”
The Japanese Representative, Minister Tetsuya Kimura [Social Affairs Minister of the Japanese Mission] stated: “The Japanese Government has apologized several times over this issue and reparations were paid out”, repeating Japan’s official stance.
In response, Ms. Yong Su Lee strongly stated, “Who apologized to who? I never received an apology. I never received any reparations. Some fund that you state is not a formal compensation from Japan. That’s from a private fund. How do you even consider using donated monies to compensate people? Japan must answer now, and the emperor must apologize on his knees.” Kimura responded, “I can only restate my government’s stance. I will make sure that I will deliver your message and the petitions to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Japan.”
[Photo: Ms. Yong Su Lee presenting the petitions to Mr. Kimura.]
Her eyes welling with tears, Ms. Ok Sun Lee said “It is not fair that we flew all the way here to visit the Japanese mission but didn’t receive a clear answer to our struggle.”
Ms. Ethel Katz, representing the Holocaust survivors grabbed Mr. Kimura and asked “Do you recognize Holocaust as a historical fact?” Kimura answered “Yes.” She then said, “Then why do you not acknowledge the Comfort Women?” “I came as a representative of the people that suffered under the war. You cannot stoop down to the level of Holocaust deniers. Holocaust deniers don’t have the sense nor the mind to understand. Japan must acknowledge the comfort women and apologize.” Ms Katz concluded.
Mr. Kimura promised to deliver the petitions to the Japanese government.
[Photo: Ms. Ethel Katz requesting an apology from Japan.]
The petitions were collected at KAVC and the Kupferberg Holocaust Center’s joint event on December 13th. About 130 signatures of local politicians, the Jewish community, and the Korean community were collected in just two hours.