“WE STRONGLY demand the following: One, a public apology and legal restitution to the victims of the Japanese military sexual slavery by the Japanese government; Two, an immediate dismissal of the ‘Reconciliation and Remedy Foundation,’ an erroneous product of the ‘comfort women’ agreement between the South Korean and Japanese governments in 2015, which has completely muted the demands of the victims.” On March 21, a demonstration was held at the Student Union Building by Yonsei Nabi to voice the continual injustice experienced by sexual slavery victims for the Japanese imperial army, also known as the “comfort women.” At first glance, its name “Nabi”—a Korean noun meaning “butterfly”—may make it difficult to imagine their fearlessness in achieving the rights of the “comfort women.” However, these “butterflies” were indignant, determined, and vigorous in their protest on campus; Yonsei Nabi successfully reminded Yonsei University of the historical injustice and pain of the “comfort women” that we must not forget.
Yonsei Nabi: its function and ambition
The victims of Japanese military sexual slavery, or more commonly referred to as the “comfort women,” are young females who were subjected to forced sexual labor by the Japanese army. These women were “recruited,” or kidnapped by the Japanese corps to serve as sex slaves. The majority of them were juvenile, usually under the age of 20. According to their testimony, the “comfort women” were exposed in an appalling environment, being tortured and beaten by the Japanese soldiers on a daily basis. Today, decades after the atrocity, the scars of the victims remain uncured.
Peace Nabi is a nationwide network of university students from various regions of South Korea that was created in an attempt to raise the awareness of the “comfort women” issue both nationally and internationally. Currently, Peace Nabi has its branches in different universities in Seoul, Gyeonggi, Busan, Ulsan, and Jeju Island, and it continues to expand in size and influence. Yonsei University has joined the Peace Nabi network in 2017, officially establishing the Yonsei Nabi. On March 25, 2018, Yonsei Nabi hosted their first ever demonstration on campus, contributing to the on-going fight of the victims against the Japanese government.
For more detailed information of Yonsei Nabi and the Peace Nabi network, The Yonsei Annals conducted an interview with the President of Yonsei Nabi, Jeon Hye-hyeon (Soph., Dept. of Sociology).
Annals: Why was the Peace Nabi network first established?
Jeon: Peace Nabi was established to achieve justice for the surviving “comfort women,” with college students acting as forerunners of the movement. We operate within a nationwide network and we see that there are two causes for the “comfort women” issue: first is the war system, and second is the oppression of women. Only when these two social aspects are eliminated can we, the Peace Nabis, say that we have righteously solved the “comfort women” issue. On that note, Peace Nabi also supports other social problems such as gender inequality.
Annals: Yonsei was late in joining the Peace Nabi network. Why was this the case?
Jeon: Branches are created around schools or districts that have an ample supply of members who are willing to support the cause of the Peace Nabi. Before, Yonsei did not have enough students to establish its own Peace Nabi branch. However, from last spring, many students started to show interest, which led to the establishment of the Peace Nabi branch within Yonsei University.
Annals: What differentiates Yonsei Nabi from that of other schools?
Jeon: I think each branch reflects the atmosphere of the school it represents. We created our own slogan, “Yon-dae Peace!” Yon-dae holds a dual meaning in that it is a Korean abbreviation for Yonsei University, and it also translates into “solidarity” in English. As aforementioned, it is hard to change the society on one’s own. Solidarity is essential. Therefore, with this slogan, we tried to express the idea that we need Yon-dae to make peace come true. When I am managing Yonsei Nabi, I aim to emphasize its cooperation with not only the Yonsei students, but also with students from other schools.
Annals: What specific activities does Peace Nabi do as a network and a school dong-a-ri?
Jeon: Every year, we hold seminars with newly recruited supporters and members to explore the issue of “comfort women.” There are many students who say that they have learned a lot through the seminars. Like this, we see the duties of our dong-a-ri as being the advocates of the problem, voicing our opinions, and serving as reminders of the atrocity so that it can be prevented from repeating itself. Also, we actively hold campaigns, such as signature campaigns for the nullification of the Korea-Japan Agreement*. Recently at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, we opened a press conference in response to the ludicrous statements made by Abe, the Japanese Prime Minister, before his arrival to Korea. He said that Japan cannot move a millimeter away from the Korea-Japan Agreement, and that there will be no nullification of the “comfort women” agreement. Our press conference criticized his thoughtless words, contending that he should not disturb the spirit of the Olympics, and that he needs to visit the So-nyo statues**, not PyeongChang. Like this, we execute diverse activities.
Other than the activities illustrated by Jeon, Peace Nabi as a network has hosted “Peace Nabi Concerts” for three consecutive years from 2013 to 2015 in different regions around Korea. These concerts were organized to increase the awareness of the problem of “comfort women” to a wider public, make the issue more approachable, and collect donations. From 2016 onwards, the Peace Nabi network has shifted its nationwide event from a concert to a marathon—the “Peace Nabi: Run.” Approximately 15,000 runners gathered both in 2016 and 2017, rendering the event a great success. Recently on March 17, 2018, another fund-raising marathon, “Peace Nabi: Run” took place and garnered substantial support from the public. Through these nationwide events, the wishes of hundreds of “butterflies” warmed the hearts of the general public. In such ways, the influence of Peace Nabi has been flying over South Korea, and hopefully to the world, to put an end to a seemingly never-ending, daunting journey of solving the “comfort women” problem.
“Comfort women,” Peace Nabi, and the government
As the problem of “comfort women” is essentially dependent on the diplomacy between South Korea and Japan, what the Nabis do is intimately related to the government actions and its decisions.
On Dec. 28, 2015, the former President of South Korea, Park Geun-hye, and Shinzo signed the Korea-Japan Agreement on the Issue of “Comfort Women” Victims. However, this agreement received countless criticisms from the public and the “comfort women” themselves, as its clauses were considered ineffective for two main reasons. First and foremost, it is known that the agreement was reached through a settlement amongst the two Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Korea and Japan, and this was deemed as problematic because the process essentially excluded the victims and their voices. According to the constitution, any agreement concerning the right of a citizen must obtain confirmation from the National Assembly; however, this agreement followed the procedures of a Gentleman’s Agreement***.
In addition, in this agreement, the South Korean party controversially consented to not publicize the historical fault of Japan on an international level. In return for this, the Korean government was to receive monetary compensation by the Japanese government and use this capital to establish the “Reconciliation and Remedy Foundation.” These settlements reveal several flaws, which render the agreement as a hotly debated topic within Korea even to this day. Some people argue that it fails to satisfy the most fundamental essence of this negotiation—that is, a sincere apology.
Triggering an even greater discontent is the claim that the compensation counts to serve only the remaining survivors of the “comfort women” crisis. What about those “comfort women” who were sacrificed and murdered decades ago on the battlefield? What about those who have passed away while waiting for an earnest apology? It is concerning these points of contention that the Korea-Japan Agreement on the Issue of “Comfort Women” victims have angered many.
On Dec. 27, 2017, with the onset of the new government led by President Moon Jae-in, the Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa announced plans to practically invalidate this controversial agreement. This decision was based on a report made by the Task Force (TF) named the Review of the Korea-Japan Agreement on the Issue of “Comfort Women” victims, which exposed that the Blue House was at the center of the control behind this agreement, while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was essentially a bystander.
The versatility of the situation is apparent: after three years of the Korea-Japan agreement, the rights of the “comfort women” have entered another phase. As a network of university students formed solely for the consultation of the pain of the “comfort women,” Yonsei Nabi once again shared its insights regarding this point with the Annals.
Annals: What does Yonsei Nabi think about President Moon Jae-in’s follow-up measures of the Korea-Japan Agreement?
Jeon: Unlike the former president, Moon is really showing his effort to solve the “comfort women” issue. If you look at the TF report, it says that the Korea-Japan Agreement cannot be the virtuous solution to the issue and that it fails to appreciate the victims of the incident. Moon is doing well in pointing out these core problems. His action of designating an anniversary date for Kim Hak-sun’s**** initial public testimony on August 13 shows how he is putting his words into action. We receive his actions with a positive mindset. However, if the questions that arose after the Korea-Japan Agreement cannot be solved, along with their unfair points, there will be no prominent progress on the issue: especially more so because as you know, there was a closed-door consultation. We need to cast aside the agreement, return the billion dollars [that were given as part of the monetary compensation]… and make real, practical measures. We want these practical, lawful measures to be made, but the current situation seems like the Korean government is just waiting for the Japanese government to act voluntarily according to its will. We hope the Moon government will actively demand the abolishment of the agreement. As Peace Nabi, we always need to require the highest level of conscience and the highest level of solution. It is for this reason that we hope the solution will be rooted in human rights and become more victim-centered, even though we are well aware that there are ample political obstacles.
Annals: What do victims think about this issue?
Jeon: Many victims, such as Kim Bok-dong, Lee Yong-su, and Gil One-ok, frequently attended Peace Nabi’s regular demonstrations that are held every Wednesday. Until last year, they actively voiced their opinions in this event. In particular, Lee Yong-su was actively involved in the issue, being a leading figure in the demonstrations. However, many victims are now in a poor state of health. It’s been a long time since Kim Bok-dong and Gil One-ok showed up to a demonstration.
Returning to the question, there is a video clip in which Lee Yong-su gets upset at Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She asserts how pushing ahead with the Japan-Korean agreement is “killing the victims twice.” As for Kim Bok-dong, she showed disappointment towards the Moon government, contending that there has been no significant development in the situation after the change of the government. She has also directly delivered her opinion to Moon through a conversation over the telephone.
Annals: There is concrete evidence that Japan had systematically organized and run military brothels by forcing the Korean women’s participation. A video reassuring this historical fact has also been revealed. However, the Japanese government still maintains their stance on the issue. What does Peace Nabi think about this? What is Peace Nabi’s outlook on the Japanese government’s attitude?
Jeon: First of all, the recent reveal of a video depicting the comfort women massacre gained a lot of attention, but for a long time, there have been many resources that buttressed the fact that the “comfort women” were forcefully mobilized and that military brothels were systematically operated by the Japanese government. The resource is significant in that it is in the form of a video, but to Japan, it seems like the video was not a striking, situation-changing source. In Japan, Abe is trying to maintain his political power. It seems like they [the Japanese government] are trying to prolong their governance by strictly denying the war crimes committed by the previous government, and not acknowledging the mistakes of the past imperialistic period. Peace Nabi’s resolution towards the “comfort women” issue is demonstrated by the seven-plea document that was read at our demonstration on March 21. Some of the “seven-pleas” [towards the Japanese government] are as following: accepting war crime, giving a formal apology and legal compensation, and promoting historical education. On top of these seven demands, we also focus on remembering. We see that remembering this issue and preventing it from happening again by rightly educating the new generation is the only way to justly solve this issue. Therefore, in order to block the Japanese government from hiding this war crime and avoiding the topic, the Japanese government’s attitude of pressuring the international society and Korean government [to resolve the issue] should be condemned.
Despite the Japanese government’s unprincipled deportment towards the issue, a gradual transformation is occurring among the citizens. To a certain extent, the Japanese public is starting to take responsibility for their forebears’ actions. There is an increasing emergence of Japanese civic groups, ones that adjust funds, educate college students, and hold conferences to help understand and solve the “comfort women” problem.
“Sometimes they [Japanese civic groups] visit Korea, and we hold conferences together. Last time they delivered to us funds that they have raised in their country,” said Jeon. These movements are currently growing in their numbers, which reflects the betterment in the awareness of the issue among Japanese citizens.
* * *
“We hope more college students will give attention to the ‘comfort women’ issue. Their participation is critical,” says Jeon. College students are the future leaders of the society, and they possess the passion to translate their principle into action. “We strive to make the society peaceful and righteous through the voice and power of the younger generation,” Jeon added.
The clock is ticking. Of countless women who had their rights and dignity stripped off on the battlefields, only 29 remain as of April 5, 2018. There is a group of college students who protest for a sincere apology, a long and rotten wish of the “comfort women.” The Peace Nabi network, and now Yonsei Nabi, have volunteered to become the wings of the victims. Their fluttering will not end until the day justice is retrieved.
*Korea-Japan Agreement: An agreement made in 2015 between Japan and South Korea’s Park administration; negotiated and made an “irreversible” settlement on the issue of the “comfort women”
**So-nyo Statue: A “comfort women” memorial statue; currently located in over 66 areas in Korea, including the front space of the Embassy of Japan
***Gentleman’s Agreement: An informal and legally non-binding agreement between two or more parties; may be spoken or written
****Kim Hak-sun: A Korean human rights activist and the first woman to come forward as a victim of Japanese sexual slavery