Center for Civil and Human Rights backs out of ‘Comfort Women’ memorial

By Maria Saporta

Despite having agreed to placing a “Comfort Women” memorial in early February, the Center for Civil and Human Rights announced on March 2 that it was backing off the memorial.

Varying reasons were given for the Center’s change of heart, including the fact that the institution did not have a policy to place memorials on its grounds.

But a story that appeared in last Friday’s Atlanta Business Chronicle revealed that the statue had set off international tensions in the local community – specifically pressure by the Japanese Consulate urging the Center not to install the memorial.

comfort women

Memorial Statue that has been proposed for the Center for Civil and Human Rights (Special: Atlanta Comfort Women Task Force)

“We’re deeply disappointed to hear the Center is backing out of our written Agreement and work we’ve been engaging them in for 6 months now,” said Baik Kyu Kim, chairman of the Atlanta Comfort Women Task Force, in a release after receiving a letter from the Center reversing their stance. ““We did all this in good faith and belief in the integrity of the Center board and staff.  If there really was a policy that existed, why are they telling us now?”

Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, who chairs the Center’s board, and Derrek Kayongo, its president and CEO, signed the letter that also stated that they would seek to “find ways to collaborate with the South Korean Task Force (sic) to highlight the tragic experience of the Comfort Women that will be meaningful and impactful to Center visitors.”

(The name of the Task Force is actually the Atlanta Comfort Women Task Force).

An estimated 200,000 women and girls from 13 Asian-Pacific nations were trafficked and sexually enslaved during World War II (known as the ‘comfort women’) by the Imperial Armed Forces of Japan from 1932 to 1945. Most of the women and girls were Korean.

The purpose of the memorial was to pay homage to that history as well as raise awareness on the ongoing problems of sexual and human trafficking going on in our city and the world today.

After the public announcement of the memorial, the Task Force found out that the Japanese Consul General in Atlanta began meeting with leaders at the Metro-Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, the Center, and City of Atlanta, among many others to express concerns and threaten Japanese business fall-out from erecting this Memorial, according to Helen Kim Ho, a consultant and special advisor to the Task Force.

Helen Kim Ho

Helen Kim Ho, an advisor to the Atlanta Comfort Women Task Force, during an interview before learning of the Center for Civil and Human Rights reversal on the memorial (Photo by Maria Saporta)

“The Task Force was never contacted or notified of this anti-Memorial campaign effort and found out third-hand a week and a half after it began, so it’s hard to believe their decision is policy-based,” Ho said in a statement. “Part of the tragedy of the comfort woman story is that there has never been full governmental acknowledgement, apology and reparations that United Nations rapporteurs, human rights tribunals, our U.S. House of Representatives and other political bodies have universally demanded for decades. With continued efforts to silence and dismiss this history, it’s another trauma.”

Ho went on to say that “Likewise, the Center failed to alert us and invite us to help share information when this anti-Memorial campaign occurred.  This felt sadly familiar to the systematic efforts to silence and ignore the truth and power of these women and girls we are seeking to honor.”

The Japanese Consulate did issue a statement from Yasukata Fukahori, the deputy consul general in Atlanta. Here is the statement in full:

The Government of Japan recognizes that this is an issue in which the honor and dignity of many women were at stake. Japan has taken various measures from a moral standpoint, notwithstanding the fact that the issues of claims by individuals, including those of former comfort women, were legally settled in an agreement between Japan and the Republic of Korea when they normalized their relationship in 1965. The Asian Women’s Fund, established in 1995 by the people and the Government of Japan, was one of those measures. Most recently, the Government of Japan reached with the Government of the Republic of Korea an agreement over the issue in December 2015, which confirmed the comfort women issue is resolved finally and irreversibly. The Government of Japan honors the agreement and has implemented it in a very faithful manner, regardless of whatever happens in the Republic of Korea. The contribution of 1 billion yen to the foundation established based on the agreement clearly shows Japan’s commitment to implementing the agreement. It should also be noted that the majority of the survivors of former comfort women at the time of the agreement endorsed and appreciated the agreement and received support provided by the foundation.
The problem of the statue does not end there. The Government of Japan is seriously concerned that the statue in Atlanta may cause discrimination, humiliation or bullying against members of the Japanese community in Atlanta who wish to live in peace. The Government of Japan must not allow the situation where Japanese residents overseas are discriminated or their safe and secure lives are threatened. The Consulate-General of Japan does not understand why, under such circumstances, a project of erection of a comfort woman statue in Atlanta, which will lead to divisiveness among communities, came to be considered, and sincerely hopes that this will not take place in the great city of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a city of peace, tolerance and inclusiveness.

Meanwhile, the Task Force is determined to find an Atlanta home for the Comfort Women memorial.

It has already commissioned the statue, and the Task Force is nearing its fund-raising goal.

“We are confident we will find a site deserving of this beautiful statue and memorial honoring the brave lives of girls and women who were forced into one of the largest known sexual and human trafficking rings in the 20th century,” Task Force Chair Baik Kyu Kim said in the statement. “We have almost reached our original fundraising goal and will simply redouble all our efforts. We would dishonor the spirit and history of these women if we didn’t keep moving forward at this time.”

CCHR letter

Letter signed by Shirley Franklin and Derreck Kayongo to the Task Force

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

15 replies
  1. jarvis carter says:

    It’s hard to comment without completing knowing the history. However, at face value this seems to be disheartening. To truly be inclusive, you can not discard the experience of these women for the sake of ‘comforting’ others. Is this not what happened to them in the past? They are being victimized and silenced again.Report

    Reply
  2. Burroughston Broch says:

    There is inclusivity and then there is inclusivity. It’s similar to the Black Lives Matter movement, in which the only lives that matter are those black lives taken by law enforcement. In reality, the vast majority of black lives taken are taken by other blacks, to total silence from Black Lives Matter.Report

    Reply
  3. Rc Km says:

    Imagine if some old Japanese-Americans testified and insisted 10,000 were physically abused or killed in the internment by the U.S. during World War II. The U.S. Gov. would insist “That’s false accusation. They didn’t disclose no objective/verifiable basis.”

    The situation is all the same regarding the “comfort women”.

    Japan acknowledges the existence of “comfort women”. They were legitimate wage workers. On the other hand, Japan has already acknowledged there had been rare atrocity by lawless soldiers or lower units and apologized/compensated for those (1946 to 2015).

    But some insist the “comfort women” issue was the large scale systematic criminality by the national will of Japan. However, no one ever disclosed its objective/verifiable evidence.

    For example,
    – Did anyone disclose one name of “comfort women” killed by Japanese soldiers ? …. Nothing.
    – Did anyone disclose one name of the parents who searched for their disappeared daughters after the war ? …. Nothing.
    – Did anyone disclose one concrete incident of the atrocity or human trafficking by the national will with date and location identified ? …. Nothing.

    I’m positive you’ll find nothing.
    Hope you examine the “comfort women” issue with your own heads by examining the primary materials.

    GBYReport

    Reply
    • Burroughston Broch says:

      Review the Wikipedia article on Comfort Women and other readily available sources. Then revise your slanted response.
      They were hardly regular, wage-earning women.Report

      Reply
      • Rc Km says:

        Thanks for your reply.

        Hope you carefully read the Wikipedia or other primary materials. About concrete criminal incidents, you won’t find any verifiable/proved ones except some ones by lawless soldiers or lower units such as Dutch women’s case. Those cases were already judged in the trials after the war in the far past.

        Wikipedia seems to insist Japan had committed large scale atrocity by their national policy. But if you read carefully, you’ll find no concrete “factual” incidents that endorse evil national policy. ( Here “factual” means it was identified –such as date, location, victims’ names, perpetrators’ names– and endorsed by objective/verifiable basis. )

        I know so many news, documents, narratives, politicians and historians insist the issue was systematic criminality by the national-will. So, I’ve searched for primary materials to examine their assertion.
        Eventually, I found no primary materials of their assertion. I came to have an idea the “comfort women” issue was like “Abu Ghraib prison incident” or “Criminality by the U.S. or PKO soldiers abroad”, that is, rare criminality by lawless soldiers or lower units.

        Of course, I respects victims of those. However, regarding the baselessly exaggerated condemnation, I’m disclosing the rebuttal.Report

        Reply
  4. Peggy Dobbins says:

    Then maybe they can work with the International Union of Sex Workers on an exhibit or permanent art piece on the denial to the world’s oldest profession of equal protection under the law from abuse by those employed to protect.Report

    Reply
  5. Dr. K says:

    Try the sources here: http://www.stuffmomnevertoldyou.com/podcasts/japans-comfort-women.htm. Yes, they are secondary sources, except for the testimony of the women themselves, which should not be dismissed. It is a basic fact of history that the absence of an official record does not preclude something having taken place, especially in the case of women and disadvantaged minorities.

    The successful intervention of the Japanese government in this matter is shameful. Can you imagine the Japanese ambassador making similar arguments to oppose World War II exhibits in one of Georgia’s numerous military museums? Why is women’s history considered open to suppression?Report

    Reply
    • Rc Km says:

      > the testimony of the women themselves, which should not be dismissed.

      Those might be the testimony of criminality by lawless individuals against the military discipline. Japan has already acknowledged there had been rare atrocity by lawless soldiers or lower units and apologized/compensated for those (1946 to 2015).

      However, remember that those testimony is about their personal experience. So, those cannot be the basis of systematic criminality by the upper echelon of Japan.

      If you insist the “comfort women” issue was the large scale systematic criminality by the national will of Japan, you’ll find the incomprehensibility below.

      – Did anyone disclose one name of “comfort women” killed by Japanese soldiers ? …. Nothing.
      – Did anyone disclose one name of the parents who searched for their disappeared daughters after the war ? …. Nothing.
      – Did anyone disclose one concrete incident of the atrocity or human trafficking by the national will with date and location identified ? …. Nothing.

      Can you show the explanation that resolves this incomprehensibility ?Report

      Reply
      • Dr. K says:

        It is clear from your comments that your sole concern is for the Japanese national reputation and not at all for the Comfort Women themselves. But this is not a monument to the “systematic criminality by the upper echelon of Japan.” The memory of the tragedy that happened to these women should not be suppressed because Japan is fearful of being blamed. Did the memorial even make any of the claims that you are refuting?Report

        Reply
        • Rc Km says:

          > But this is not a monument to the “systematic criminality by the upper echelon of Japan.”
          > Did the memorial even make any of the claims that you are refuting?

          Yes, it did.
          Atlanta Comfort Women Memorial Task Force promoted this statue as;
          “This monument will be built here in Atlanta, in memory of the more than 200,000 girls and women who were removed from their homes…. to be trafficked and sexually enslaved by the Imperial Armed Forces of Japan….”

          The upper echelon’s systematic commitment would come to be the requisite for such a big scale inhumane activity if it were fact.

          Japan acknowledges the existence of “comfort women”, legitimate wage workers. Japan also acknowledged there were rare atrocity by lawless soldiers or lower units and apologized/compensated for those (1946 to 2015).

          However, the statue represents the unfoundedly exaggerated propaganda that denigrates Japan, Japanese citizens and their ancestors that had been soldiers.
          That’s the very reason Japanese Gov. and citizens oppose the statue.Report

          Reply
          • Dr. K says:

            Mr. M, (Yes, I know your real name.)

            I understand that it is your deeply held belief that there was no widespread Imperial Japanese system forcing colonized women into prostitution. I understand that you have devoted considerable time and resources into combating memorials to the Comfort Women and have, as your last post suggests, denied that they were even forced into sexual slavery.

            I believe that you are wrong. I believe the overwhelming evidence that supports the comfort womens’ claims. You may, as conspiracy theorists and defenders of sexual assailants do, weave a web of doubts, aspersions, and contradictions in order to defend your position. I will no longer allow you to do so in conversation with me.

            You and your supporters have successfully steered this conversation away from the injustice and indignities done to the Comfort Women to imagined slights against the Japanese. It is clear you do not believe them to be victims of systematic human rights abuses, except in rare cases. I am very disappointed that the Center for Civil and Human Rights did not stand up for these women who — even to this day, evidently — have been wronged and maligned.Report

          • Rc Km says:

            +Dr.K

            (A)
            > I believe the overwhelming evidence that supports the comfort women’s claims.
            Regarding the claim as “the systematic criminality by the upper echelon of Japan…. “, what’s the objective/verifiable evidence do you mean ? Can you cite some sentences that can be the evidence from those ?

            (B)
            Atlanta Comfort Women Memorial Task Force said “more than 200,000 girls and women who were removed from their homes…. to be trafficked and sexually enslaved by the Imperial Armed Forces of Japan…. “.
            Can you disclose the objective basis of that ?

            I also add one point that, to be discussed is not just the number of “comfort women” including voluntary wage workers. To be examined is the number of the victims of inhumane criminality such as abduction/captivity/physical-abuse/rape/massacre.

            (C)
            You didn’t resolve the incomprehensibility below. Can you ?
            – Did anyone disclose one name of “comfort women” killed by Japanese soldiers ? …. Nothing.
            – Did anyone disclose one name of the parents who searched for their disappeared daughters after the war ? …. Nothing.
            – Did anyone disclose one concrete incident of the atrocity or human trafficking by the national will with date and location identified ? …. Nothing.

            (D)
            Some say, “There are more than 200 testimonies of the suffering even only in Korea. Though those were not objectively proved, many testimonies themselves are the evidence of the Japan’s upper echelon’s criminality.”
            But you’d better think it calmly.
            In 1977, there were 48,000 U.S. soldiers, their families and related civilian American workers in Okinawa Pref. of Japan ( not the battlefield ). There were 69 murder/robbery/arson/rape by them in that one year. ( official statistics by Okinawa Pref. ). How do you think of this case ?
            So far as I know, there found no objective basis to show that was “the systematic criminality by the upper echelon of the U.S.” By this reason, I understand those were atrocity by lawless individuals against the U.S. military discipline.

            .
            About “comfort women”, I say again, I respect the circumstance of victims by lawless soldiers’ atrocity. However, regarding the condemnation, “the systematic criminality by the upper echelon of Japan”, I’m disclosing the rebuttal because that condemnation has no objective basis.Report

  6. Dr. A says:

    It is opportune that “Dr. K” mentioned that the testimonials of former Korean comfort women should not be dismissed. In (Korean-born) Professor C. Sarah Soh’s well-researched book, “The Comfort Women,” Prof. Soh interviewed former Korean comfort women, and these women originally said that they had joined on their own or were “sold” by their families, due to poverty. Korean comfort women were often deceived by civilian recruiters, a significant number of whom were Korean.

    Some former Korean comfort women changed their testimonials over time to incriminate Japan. This is also mentioned in Prof. Soh’s book.

    Indeed, there were women in the Dutch East Indies (today’s Indonesia) who were forced into prostitution by Japanese soldiers, but this was done by soldiers disobeying orders from the Japanese high command. These “forced” women (e.g., in Indonesia) were different from Korean comfort women, but their stories have been conflated.

    There are also historical records mentioning civilians abducting Korean women. These criminals may have worn uniforms similar to military uniforms, so it is possible that Korean women were indeed abducted, but by civilians misidentified as military. The existence of a small number of rogue soldiers, of course, can never be ruled out.

    Korean Prof. Yuha Park’s research, as well as many other Korean scholars’ research, on Korean comfort women corroborate Prof. Soh’s findings.

    You may not be aware that there are anti-Japanese groups in Korea who hate Japan, and their narrative has usurped the Internet (including Wikipedia), the media, government resolutions, and U.N. reports, through a repetitive and well-organized PR campaign. In the United States, extremists exist on both the Right and the Left who despise each other. Imagine if the ultra-Right wrote the history about President Obama; do you think it would be objective? Or, if the ultra-Left wrote about President George W. Bush’s legacy, do you think this would be objective? In the U.S., the extremists generally counterbalance each other; however, the Japanese did not recognize the danger of the anti-Japan campaign until the world had been flooded with misinformation.

    Women’s rights, equality, and history should never be suppressed. And, all justice-seeking women and men should be against those who spread false rumors specifically designed to evoke hatred. If you truly seek justice, dig deeply when conducting research on comfort women, and trace back where the ‘facts’ have come from. The Wikipedia entry on comfort women (as of March 2017) is replete with misleading and one-sided statements. IF you carefully investigate the references vilifying Japan, they all trace back to the same limited number of biased or agenda-driven sources.

    The best way to honor Korean comfort women is to tell the true story of how poverty, socio-economic hardships and Korea’s patriarchal society, where women were undervalued by men, directly created the environment where women joined on their own or were forced by their families, often the father, as a matter of survival. Comfort women were victims and did suffer, and are deserving of our sympathy and understanding. And their TRUE story must be told in order to stop such tragedies from happening again. Vilifying Japan masks the true causes and will not help women, today or in the future.Report

    Reply

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