- Title: BELGIUM: Former "comfort women" ask Japan to apologise for WWII abuses
- Date: 12th November 2007
- Summary: PHOTOGRAPH SHOWING YOUNG GIRLS PHOTOGRAPH SHOWING ELDERLY WOMAN PUTING FINGER ON HER MOUTH
- Embargoed: 27th November 2007 12:00
- Location: Belgium
- Country: Belgium
- Topics: War / Fighting,History
- Reuters ID: LVA9A0EK07WWEYWIRQ5KIQSGN89Y
- Story Text: Three 'comfort women' met with members of the European Parliament on Tuesday (November 6) as part of a campaign led by Amnesty International to call on Japan for an official apology to the thousands of women who were enrolled as sexual slaves during and before World War II.
Amnesty International wants the European Parliament and the Council of Europe to raise this issue with the Japanese government during the European Union-East Asia Heads of State and Government summit (EU-ASEAN summit) set to take place in Singapore on November 22.
They say a resolution voted by the European Parliament would increase pressure on the Japanese government to issue an official apology and offer compensation.
Jean Lambert, a Member of the European Parliament for London's Green Party, welcomed Won Ok Gil who was born in North Korea and now lives in South Korea, Menem Castillo from the Philippines and Ellen van der Ploeg, from the Netherlands. The former 'comfort women' told their story to members of the Parliament and delegates from different political groups.
''The idea is that at least the issue should be raised there, that this is part of the process that has brought the American representatives on board. It's under discussion now in Canada, so this is a global movement to say to the Japanese: Please, recognize this with an official apology and let's look at compensation as well which is on offer. And this is part again I think of, we so often see, countries coming to terms with their past,'' Lambert said.
In July this year, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a non-binding resolution intended as a symbolic statement on the Japanese government's role in forcing up to 200,000 "comfort women" into a wartime brothel program starting in the 1930s. The Canadian Congress is also set to discuss the issue.
Won Ok Gil (pronounce Wouan Ok Kil) was born in 1928 in Heechun, a city now located in North Korea. She was 13 years old when a Korean man approached her with the promise of factory work and found herself in a comfort station in northeast China. After she caught syphilis and developed tumours, a Japanese military doctor removed her uterus.
''I was too young to figure out what kind of operation it would be. I never thought they would completely remove my uterus, and then that I would never be able to bear a child in the future,'' Gil said.
Gil said the Japanese military removed her ovarian cyst during a second surgical operation. After the war, her body was so frail that her pancreas had to be removed too. Gil said her body aches everywhere and she doesn't know where she found the strength to fly to Europe to tell her story.
"They didn't leave me in peace for one moment. And I was thinking, life is so tough and also so mysterious. I am wondering - how can I live so long, after such devastating experiences, such inhuman and humiliating moments? I am still here after all the cruelty,'' she said.
Gil found herself in South Korea after the war separated from her family living in North Korea and took all sorts of jobs to survive. She adopted a son, who is a Methodist minister and is now 50 years old. Encouraged by her daughter-in-law after watching a report on television, Gil broke her silence in 1998 at the age of 71, some 53 years after the events. Gil said the support of her family was essential in registering as a 'comfort women'.
Despite the suffering, she would be ready to forgive Japan if they officially apologize.
"Japan is Korea's neighbour, and in this world, Japan and Korea have to live side by side. And I cannot let my children hate Japan. So in order for our two countries to live side by side, I think I would have to accept their apologies, if they ever give some serious apologies,'' she said.
Gil's story was repeated throughout Asia but Ellen van der Ploeg (pronounce Plug), a comfort woman born in the Netherlands, said she could never forgive what Japanese soldiers did to her.
Van der Ploeg was born in 1923 in the Hague, Netherlands. She lived with her family in East Java, which was then a Dutch colony named the Dutch East Indies. When Japanese occupation began in March 1942, she was 19 years old. In March 1943, she was taken by the Japanese forces. Between March 1943 and December 1946, she lived in five different labour camps and there was selected to work as a 'comfort woman'.
''And the Thursday, that was the day that the Japanese authorities stood up and the girls had to parade again before them, and then that little finger, he put the finger there and there, and on me too. And so fifty girls were out of the camp,'' Van der Ploeg said.
Her father, in the Dutch army, died in another camp. When she returned to the Netherlands with the rest of the family at the end of the war, she said the Dutch people were too busy coping with food rationing and the lack of work to show consideration for her suffering. She said she never felt supported by the Dutch authorities and will never forgive Japan.
In 1993, Japan acknowledged a state role in the wartime program, which mostly victimized Chinese and Korean women. Japan's government later established a fund, which collected private donations and offered payments of about $20,000 to 285 women.
But more recently, Japanese officials including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, have denied there was evidence the government or military were directly involved in procuring the women. He later apologized for the women's suffering and said he stood by the 1993 statement.
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