The Chairman of the South Korean Democratic Party, the country’s leading party, Lee Hae-chan, has called out his peers for using the comfort women advocacy as a tool to sow political strife. He made this statement following an announcement of former comfort woman Lee Yong-soo, questioning the activities of the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan.
The 92-year-old Lee Yong-soo went public early in May to declare that she would not be participating in the weekly rallies that the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance hold outside of the Japanese embassy. The Council was founded in 1990 with the goal of obtaining justice and recompense for the South Koreans who served as comfort women during World War II. For decades, it has been operating nationally, as well as across nations, in order to raise awareness and funds for the comfort women’s cause. One of its regular and most popular activities is the weekly rally.
Face of Comfort Women Campaign
The face of the campaign is Lee Yong-soo, who, in spite of her age, has been energetically supporting the Council and her peers. However, in her statement, she says that she cannot continue to participate in the rallies as they have only been resulting in bad blood – quite the opposite of what the Council had set out to do. She also called for the total stoppage of the rallies saying, “Students spend their own precious money and time to attend these rallies, but the rallies only teach hatred and suffering. Korean and Japanese youths with historically accurate education must befriend each other and communicate with each other to solve problems.”
Lee Yong-soo had worse revelations about the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance and the South Korean government.
Going a step further, she revealed that the Council has not been fulfilling its mission to take care of the welfare of former comfort women. “The comfort women who belong to the Council are considered as victims and are cared for by the Council, but those who do not belong to the Council are not cared for. I have been deceived and exploited for the last 30 years,” she said. This exclusivity is contrary to the Council’s mandate.
The South Korean government became embroiled in the issue due to the controversial former head of the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance, Yoon Mee-hyang, whom Lee Yong-soo accused of embezzling funds from the organization. Yoon Mee-hyang recently resigned from her post at the Council when she was elected as a government official under the wings of the ruling Democratic Party.
Misappropriated Funds Accusations
The former comfort woman implicated Yoon Mee-hyang in using Council funds for her own personal gain instead of disbursing them to the intended recipients. Yoon Mee-hyang allegedly made property purchases and funded her own daughter’s American education using Council funds. The activist-turned-politician was silent about the controversy for a while but was pressured to make a statement. A statement which was utterly dismissive and non-committal. She flat out denied Lee Yong-soo’s accusations and even went as far as to discredit her. Yoon Mee-hyang cited the former comfort woman’s age, saying that this has led to faulty memory and that she was remembering things incorrectly.
The Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance obtains funds through donations from various sectors. This includes government subsidies.
The Council itself has also supposedly misappropriated funds, taking away from what the comfort women should have received. In 2015, under the South Korean-Japanese treaty, 1 billion yen ($9.34 million) was to be provided to the victims. Apparently, this was the only time that the South Korean comfort women actually received considerable amounts from the Council. Since then, it has been unclear how – or if – the victims have received substantial benefits from the organization.
For its part, the Council has declared that they have been fulfilling their duties and have not exploited their beneficiaries in any way, only admitting to possible accounting errors and non-disclosure of some donations.
Prosecutor General Action
The Prosecutor General took swift action and ordered an investigation into the Council the day after Lee Yong-soo held her press conference. However, as a member of the National Assembly, it seems that Yoon Mee-hyang is partially immune to even the Prosecutor General’s office’s investigative powers.
While the Democratic Party leader has spoken out regarding the issue, saying that political foes are using it as a tool, the government has been tainted with the accusations. If proven to be true, the opposite may actually apply – the comfort women are being exploited by their own government even in their twilight years.