OSAKA – The city of Brookhaven, Georgia, on Friday unveiled a statue dedicated to the “comfort women,” becoming the first location in America’s Deep South to install a controversial memorial to the women and young girls forced to work in Japan’s wartime military brothels.
The Brookhaven statue is the latest in a growing worldwide movement by cities and towns to commemorate the victims. It comes after protests and intense pressure by the Japanese government and others who say there is no evidence that the military sexually enslaved the women before and during World War II.
Proponents of such statues in Japan and abroad have argued that they are not only about history, but also serve as an international symbol of violence against women and as a reminder of modern human rights issues.
“By establishing this memorial, we raise the awareness of ongoing problems of sexual and human trafficking that is taking place in the metro area and the world today,” Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst said.
Brookhaven is a suburb directly northeast of Atlanta, which was ranked by the FBI as America’s top city for human trafficking crimes in 2014. According to Brookhaven City Council member John Park, the decision to build the statue came after intense opposition by the Japanese government succeeded in preventing a statue from being erected in Atlanta’s Center for Civil and Human Rights, which changed its mind earlier this year after signing a memorandum of understanding.
“It was clear that lobbying by the Japanese consul (of Atlanta) was the reason,” Park said.
In Tokyo on Friday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the installation of the statue was extremely regrettable and that the government would continue to make efforts to explain its position through various approaches and channels.
Also on Friday, Jiji Press reported from Seoul that 36 of the 47 surviving former comfort women have agreed to receive financial assistance from a program run by a foundation created by South Korea. The foundation is the result of a December 2015 pact with Japan.
The 2015 agreement was intended to “finally and irreversibly” resolve the issue. Japan contributed ¥1 billion to the foundation in line with the pact.
The Brookhaven statue’s dedication comes about three months after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case regarding a similar statue in Glendale, California. A group called the Global Alliance for Historical Truth, which includes many Japanese and which disputes claims that 200,000 women were forced to become comfort women, Japan’s euphemism for the sex slaves, demanded that Glendale remove the statue. In a rare move, the Japanese government intervened, asking the Supreme Court to hold hearings for the group.
To date, there are around 50 statues and plaques worldwide dedicated to the comfort women, including about 40 in South Korea, one in Okinawa, and nine in the U.S.