S. Korean sexual slavery survivor wants UN court judgment

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Lee Yong-soo, a South Korean woman who was sexually enslaved by Japan's World War II military, weeps during a press conference at the Press Center in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. Lee called for the leaders of both countries to settle an impasse over the issue by seeking judgment from the International Court of Justice. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

SEOUL – A South Korean woman who was sexually enslaved by Japan’s World War II military called for the leaders of both countries to settle an impasse over the issue by seeking judgment from the International Court of Justice.

The 92-year-old woman, Lee Yong-soo, said Tuesday she hopes a ruling by the U.N.'s highest court handling disputes would bring closure after she and other survivors campaigned unsuccessfully for 30 years demanding that the Japanese government accept legal responsibility for their slavery.

Reading out a message to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Lee also lamented that the friction between governments over the sexual slavery issue has also hurt relations between civilians and discouraged exchanges and friendship between young people, who she said weren’t being properly educated about wartime history.

Moon’s office had no immediate reaction to Lee’s plea. Choi Young-sam, spokesperson of South Korea’s Foreign Ministry, said the government will “carefully review” Lee’s proposal while hearing more opinions from survivors.

“Our government will continue to closely communicate with ‘comfort women’ victims while trying to resolve the matter,” he said, using a common euphemism for the former sex slaves.

It’s unclear if Seoul would ever consider referring the matter to the U.N. court, where it has never fought any case and when anything less than a lopsided victory might be seen at home as a defeat.

But Lee said it has become clear the issue cannot be resolved through bilateral diplomatic talks or rulings by South Korea’s domestic courts that have been repeatedly rejected by the Japanese government.

“I am not asking for money. (I am asking for Japan’s) full acknowledgment of responsibilities and apology,” said Lee, who sobbed as she read the letter during the news conference in Seoul.