Campaigners for a statue in Sydney honouring up to 200,000 women forced to work as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during the WWII say they’ve been bombarded with correspondence from Japan opposing the plan.
Sydney’s Korean and Chinese communities have been lobbying for the memorial, arguing there’s no statue in Australia acknowleding the suffering of women subjected to sexual abuse during conflict.
Amnesty International estimates up to 200,000 women and girls were forced to work in brothels by the Japanese during the Second World War.
Most came from Korea and China, with a smaller number from countries including the Netherlands and Australia.
An Australia-based group, the United Chinese Korean Alliance Against Japanese Warcrimes, is campaigning for a statue to honour the so-called comfort women.
Following the suggestion it be located in the Sydney suburb of Strathfield, the local council has been inundated with objections.
The Deputy Mayor of Strathfield, Sang Ok, says councillors are receiving dozens of opposition emails each day, most sent from Japan.
“We are bombarded every day. It is really disturbing. It is actually disturbing our official works as councillors. At least 40 or 50 emails we are receiving every day.”
‘Nasty and vindictive’
At the age of 21, Dutch-Australian Jan Ruff-O’Herne was taken from a Prisoner of War camp in Indonesia and forced to work in a military brothel.
Now in her 90s, she supports calls for a memorial.
Her daughter, Carol Ruff, has been campaigning on her behalf and says she has at times been stung by the tone of opposition.
“I’ve read a lot of letters that have come through to Strathfield Council, over this issue. They are quite hateful. They are really upsetting. I actually couldn’t read them all. They were really nasty and vindictive and when I think that my mother and the other 200,000 other comfort women suffered at the hands of the Japanese military in the enforced slavery, for them to be written off as voluntary prostitutes, paid women, it’s an insult.”
But the Chinese committee chairman of the United Chinese Korean Alliance Against Japanese Warcrimes, (mr) Dong Dong Yang, says support has outweighed opposition.
“Our organisation received those letters, but we also received many support messaged from overseas Chinese committee as well. “
A symbolic gesture
Campaigners hope to commission a life-size bronze sculpture featuring three women standing together, with hands clasped.
Carol Ruff says the statue would have meaning far beyond the local Chinese and Korean community.
“I was just speaking to my mother about this. She pointed out that in our country and in our cities we have so many monuments to men who have suffered and fought in war. And we don’t really have much for women who have fought in war, and we certainly do not have any statues or monuments to remember women who have been raped in war. And I think therefore that to put something like this is Strathfield is really progressive and really pertinent. And it would mean alot to alot of members of the community not just to to members of the…, people who are connected directly to Japan or Korea. I think it has a broader reach.”
Japan’s Prime Minister provoked outrage when he suggested the comfort women may have willingly provided sexual services to Japanese servicemen.
While Shinzo Abe recently committed to letting a 1993 apology to the women stand, the Deputy Mayor of Strathfield, Sang Ok, says Japan is trying to revise history.
He says Japan’s position on wartime atrocities stands in stark contrast with that of Germany.
“They (Germany) are repeatedly apologising, repeatedly trying to compensate or to help those war victims. But in contrast to Germany what the current Japanese government is doing is totally different. They want to conceal, deny the war crimes.”
Japan’s Embassy in Australia says it’s aware of the proposal to erect a statue.
Spokesman Hiroshi Nawata says Prime Minister Abe is “deeply pained” to think of what he calls the “immeasurable pain and suffering” the comfort women experienced.
However he says that the proposed statue is not compatible with Japan’s position.
The South Korean embassy in Canberra says the establishment of the statue is being carried out by the Korean community in Australia in its own capacity, and it has no official comment on the matter.