Korean ‘comfort women’ speak in defense of memorial in California

LOS ANGELES — Two Korean women have offered statements about their wartime experiences of being forced to provide sex to Japanese soldiers, in support of the California city of Glendale which is fighting a lawsuit that seeks to remove a “comfort women” memorial in a city park.

The Korean American Forum of California said July 22 in front of a U.S. Central District of California courthouse that the advocacy group submitted the declarations of Lee Ok Seon, 87 and Kang Il Chul, 85, along with its application to speak as a supporter of the defendant in court.

Catherine Sweetser, lawyer for KAFC, said, “In this lawsuit, Gingery vs. City of Glendale, the plaintiffs seek to silence the voices of these women and of the people like the Korean American Forum of California that are advocating for them and for remembrance of their history and the tragedies that happened during World War II.”

The case was lodged by two Japanese Americans and a nonprofit organization who argue that the city erected the statue without city council approval of the inscription seeking Japan to accept responsibility for its act.

They also say the monument could adversely affect U.S. relations with Japan and thus infringe on the constitutional power to set foreign policy accorded to the federal government.

Lee said she was abducted off a street in rural Ulsan, Korea in 1942 when the country was under Japanese rule. She was about 15 at the time and was held for three years. She said she and the other former “comfort women” want the Japanese government to make an official apology and reparations, asking if Japan is waiting for all surviving victims to die.

“Is it really what you want, to wait out until all of us die,” Lee said through an interpreter during the July 22 press conference. “I don’t think that is the right thing to do.”

According to Phyllis Kim, spokesperson for KAFC, there are 54 surviving former “comfort women” living in South Korea today. Ten of them, including Lee and Kang, live at the House of Sharing, a home for former “comfort women” in Gwangju.

Kang, who said she was abducted at age 14, added she is thankful for those in the United States who are working to promote awareness of the plight of former “comfort women.” “Many different countries have come together to work on this issue in solidarity for many years, but recently, the people in the United States have been making strong voices to speak out about this issue and we are utterly grateful for the American people for doing this,” she said, also through an interpreter during the press conference. 

Lee and Kang are in the United States on a two-week trip to Southern California and the East Coast, and will meet with politicians familiar with the “comfort women” issue, attend events, and visit “comfort women” memorials erected in U.S. cities.

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