Two women traveled thousands of miles from Korea last month for an important trip to the U.S. They came to demand an apology from Japan while asking for help from the U.S. government for their imperative mission.
The two are comfort women, a term that describes young women who were coerced, abducted, or deceived into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II. They were beaten, brutalized, raped, burned, and even mutilated.
Ok-Seon Lee and Il-Chul Kang traveled to California in late July to bring more attention to a Congressional resolution urging Japan to formally acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical responsibility for these acts. House Resolution 121, also known as the "Comfort Women Resolution," passed seven years ago. Japan still has not offered a formal apology.
That is why Lee, 87, and Kang, 86, came here: They need the help of the U.S. to fulfill their dying wish.
California Congressman Mike Honda was one of the legislators who spearheaded the 2007 resolution. In February, he sent a letter to the Secretary of State to urge action on the issue of comfort women. "I firmly believe this is neither a historical issue nor an Asian issue; this is a human rights issue," he wrote.
The Korean American Forum of California, which sponsored Lee and Kang's trip, is hoping the Obama administration will officially take up the issue "The Department of State now has the obligation to carry out what was passed in the House of Representatives," said Phyllis Kim, the forum's spokesperson. "Some women forcefully went through abortion. Some women gave birth to a baby, but she didn't have a chance to see if it was a girl or a boy. They just took the baby away and no one knows what happens to the baby. These horror stories."
Although the Obama Administration has not taken any official action, the President did express his thoughts about this issue in his recent trip to South Korea.
"... I think that any of us who look back on the history of what happened to the comfort women here in South Korea, for example, have to recognize that this was a terrible, egregious violation of human rights," President Obama said in April. "Those women were violated in ways that, even in the midst of war, was shocking. And they deserve to be heard; they deserve to be respected; and there should be an accurate and clear account of what happened."
The Korean American Forum of California has been urging cities to host such memorials, one which stands in Glendale that survived a court challenge earlier this month.
"It is even more urgent and important to get the apology before these grandmas [aging comfort women] pass away, and that is exactly why it's important to have them here," Kim said, adding that even though it is very difficult for the comfort women to come forward to the public, Lee and Kang have the courage to do so. "They know they don't have much time, but it is to restore their honor and dignity."
"When I was abducted," said Lee, "I went through the pain that is indescribable. I was cut with knives. I was beaten to death. I went through such a hard time. I am really happy that people in the United States are making these efforts to resolve this issue, to help us, and to remember and protect our human rights."
Here is a copy of House Resolution 121.