The 93-year-old is the face of a decaying group of South Korean survivors of sexual slavery who have been claiming since the early 1990s that the Japanese government has fully accepted the guilt and sought an unequivocal apology.
His latest – and perhaps final – push – to persuade the governments of South Korea and Japan to resolve their decades-long stalemate over sexual slavery by seeking a UN ruling.
Lee is leading an international group of lawyers and survivors of sexual slavery in the Philippines, China, Indonesia, Australia and East Timor – who last week sent a petition to UN human rights investigators urging Seoul and Tokyo to jointly refer the matter to the UN. Court of Justice. The group wants Tokyo to start arbitration with a UN panel on torture against Seoul Japan if it does not agree to bring the case to the ICJ.
It is unknown at this time what he will do after leaving the post. The country has never fought a case under such a trial, and anything less than a unilateral victory can be seen as a defeat at home.
It’s hard for Lee to be patient when others who are alive are dying.
He is concerned about the plight of those who are forgotten or distorted by Japan’s apparent efforts to reduce the violent and violent nature of World War II sex slavery and exclude it from school textbooks.
She wept as she recounted how she was dragged out of her home at the age of 16 to serve as a sex slave in Japan’s Imperial Army, and how she was tortured in a military brothel in Taiwan until the end of the war – a story she told the First World in 1992.
“Both South Korea and Japan are waiting for us to die, but I will fight to the end,” Lee said in a recent interview at the Associated Press office in Seoul across the street from the Japanese embassy. He said the purpose of his campaign was to press Japan to fully accept responsibility for its past military sexual slavery as a war crime and to properly educate the public about abuse through textbooks and memorabilia.
“I think time has waited for me so far so that I can hold my teeth and do what I can to solve this problem,” Lee said.
Allegations of sexual slavery, forced labor, and other abuses emanating from Japan’s brutal colonial rule on the Korean Peninsula before the end of World War II have strained Seoul-Tokyo relations in recent years as hostilities have spread over trade and military cooperation. Disputes have frustrated Washington, which seeks strong trilateral cooperation with its Asian allies to meet the challenges posed by North Korea and China.
The forthcoming change of government in Seoul has raised cautious hopes for better relations in Japan. After winning the election earlier this month, conservative South Korean President-elect Eun Sook Yol has promised “future-centric” cooperation with Japan.
Still, countries may find it difficult to focus on the future if they cannot narrow down their differences in the past.
Lee, an influential activist who testified before the US House of Representatives in 2007 passed a groundbreaking resolution calling on Japan to recognize wartime sex slavery, said he no longer believed Seoul and Tokyo could resolve their history disputes without a UN process.
Over the years, bilateral diplomatic talks have been largely fruitful. The current Prime Minister of Japan, Fumio Kishida, and the foreign ministers of the two countries, who had a random settlement in 2015, have never lived up to their goal of “finally and irrevocably” resolving the issue.
Lee and other survivors say Seoul officials did not consult with them before signing the deal, under which Japan agreed to contribute 1 billion yen ($ 8 million) to a South Korean fund to help victims. They questioned the sincerity of the Japanese government – then led by right-wing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has long been accused by South Korea of sanitizing Japan’s war crimes – because Japanese officials insisted the payment should not be considered compensation.
Tokyo has angrily rejected recent South Korean court rulings calling on the Japanese government and agencies to compensate victims of sexual slavery and forced labor, insisting that all wartime compensation issues were settled under the 1965 agreement to normalize relations between the two countries. .
Historians say thousands of women from around Asia, most of them Koreans, were sent to first-line military brothels to give sex to Japanese soldiers. At the time of the 2015 agreement, 46 of the 239 women registered with the Seoul government as victims were still alive in South Korea, but only 12 remain.
Although Japan has repeatedly expressed remorse for its wartime actions in the past, many South Koreans believe such comments lacked sincerity and were further destroyed by conservatives who continue to play games with or question Japan’s wartime past. The Japanese school book Sugarcoat is also frustrating to look at the atrocities of the past.
A 1996 UN report concluded that sex workers were recruited through “violence and direct coercion.” A 1993 statement from Japan acknowledged that women were taken “against their will”, but the country’s leaders later denied it.
Lee launched a campaign last year for Seoul and Tokyo to jointly refer their sexual slavery-related disputes to the ICJ in The Hague, the UN’s highest court. He made the request in several meetings with senior South Korean officials and in a letter sent to the Japanese embassy. After a silent response from both governments, Lee is now demanding that South Korea convene a UN panel to examine whether Tokyo denies its past atrocities or fails to live up to its obligations under the 1984 Convention against Torture.
South Korea could either file a complaint against Japan before the Convention Committee against torture or sue Japan at the ICJ for violating the convention, said Ethan He-seok Shin, an international legal expert who is assisting Lee’s efforts. In handling disputes between countries, the Convention allows either party to refer the matter to the ICJ if the countries cannot agree on an arbitration panel within six months. The ICJ’s decision is binding on UN member states.
“This problem doesn’t die with survivors,” Lee said. “If I don’t take care of it, the problems will pass on to our next generation.”