One hundred and one years ago tomorrow on March 1st, 1919, a group of Korean intellectuals met at a restaurant in Seoul to formally introduce the Korean Declaration of Independence to the world.
It was a call for the right of national self-determination on the leaders to act decisively from Japanese colonial powers.
The reading of the Korean Declaration of Independence that fateful day sparked public protest against Japanese occupation; within a year, up to two million Koreans participated in protests around the country. Japanese response against the countless demonstrations that broke out across Korea was quick and brutal killing thousands, arresting as many as 46-thousand eventually quashing the movement the following spring.(OUT)
Korea was liberated from Japan's colonial rule 26 years later on August 15th, 1945, but there are those who haven't seen the light at the end of day or liberation for that matter to this day: they are victims or survivors, I like to refer to them, of sexual enslavement of the Japanese military leading up to and during World War II.(OUT)
We shed light on them as we mark the 1-hundred-first year since the March 1st Independence Movement on the Korean Peninsula on News In-depth tonight.
To my right, Oh Sung-hee, Secretary of Human Rights and Solidarity for the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan - Ms. Oh, welcome to the program.
And, to my left, Kim Eun-mee, Professor at the Graduate School of International Studies at Ewha Womans University, Professor Kim, great to see you again.
Ms. Oh, the novel coronavirus outbreak in this country is affecting all corners of life and it's reached this part of the society, as well. Rain or shine, for the last 28 years activists and survivors of the Japan's sexual slavery gathered every Wednesday for the Wednesday rally in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul. That was replaced by online streaming this week. What was that like?
One of the most impending reasons for an urgent solution to the wartime sexual slavery issue is that the few remaining survivors are all very old in age. Another one of them just recently passed away earlier this year. As of this month, only 19 remain alive in South Korea, am I correct?
I'm sure the halmonis, as they're called in Koreans - the old grandmas or victims of Japan's wartime sexual enslavement - feel a special way as we mark 101 years since the March 1st Independence Movement, especially as relations between South Korea and Japan are at a new low.
I'm sure they were quite disappointed about South Korea's Constitutional Court ruling last December rejecting a petition that sought the repeal of a 2015 deal with Japan.
That agreement, of course, settled a bitter dispute between the two governments over Korean women forced into sexual enslavery by the Japanese military leading up to and during World War II.
Under this deal forged between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and former South Korean President Park Geun-hye, Japan supplies 1 billion yen - that's roughly 8.8 million U.S dollars in government funds to support the surviving quote "comfort women" and "finally and irreversibly" resolves the issue.
President Park has since been impeached and removed from office.
Professor Kim, you were part of the South Korean government's task force that discovered the existence of secret agreements between Abe and Park administrations in the 2015 deal.
Tell us about that.
However, after three years of being in court, South Korea's Constitutional Court upheld the 2015 deal in December last year. In a unanimous decision, the nine-judge panel ruled that the deal was a non-binding political agreement that did not affect the legal rights of the victims, such as their ability to seek official compensation from Japan.
What are you reading into this ruling?
President Moon Jae-in has said the 2015 deal was unacceptable to most South Koreans and some of the surviving "comfort women" fiercely oppose the deal.
Ms. Oh, you've been there beside the survivors to hear their demands first-hand.
What is it that they want?
At a UN Human Rights Council meeting this week, South Korea's Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha raised the issue of Japan's wartime sexual slavery. Without specifying Japan in her speech, Seoul's top diplomat minister said previous efforts to solve the issue lacked a victim-centered approach.
Japan lodged a protest over her remarks.
Professor Kim, what are the two government's stance regarding the 2015 agreement at this time?
With Japan imposing export controls on South Korea and the latest friction over extension of the intel-sharing pact, it is apparent that the two countries relations have soured to a new low. But their conflict is really on historical issues - namely Japan's wartime sexual enslavement of Korean women and South Korea's court ruling over wartime laborers.
It definitely seems there needs to be a fundamental solution in order for a future-oriented South Korea, Japan relationship?
One of the proposals that have been put forward as solution has been the so-called Moon Hee-sang Initiative.
The "1+1+alpha" initiative was proposed by South Korea's National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang to help make a breakthrough in the issue of compensation for wartime forced laborers.
It exempts Japan from the civil liability by establishing a foundation and voluntarily raising funds from businesses and people from the two countries.
How do the halmonis, or the quote comfort women survivors feel about this and what are your thoughts about this?
It's been 30 long years since the establishment of your foundation: the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan. The clock is ticking and only a handful of halmonis remain waiting for the day they receive their much wanted sincere apology from the Japanese government. What are your and the foundation's plans from here on out?
Last but not least, Professor Kim, what if your diplomatic prescription for South Korea and Japan to once and for all resolve this problem put it behind us and move forward?
Professor Kim Eun-mee, Oh Sung-hee, Secretary of Human Rights and Solidarity for the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, many thanks for this meaningful discussion tonight. We appreciate it.