The ICAS Lectures
Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.
Hear Ye! Hear Ye!
Philadelphia, December 8, 1998 - Chunghee Sarah Soh, Associate Professor of
Anthropology, San Francisco State University, and ICAS Fellow, delivered last
week (December 4) The ICAS Lecture: Human Rights and Humanity: The Case of the
"Comfort Women" at the University of Pennsylvania. The following
is an abstract of her paper (ICAS Lecture No. 98-1204-CSS).
Based on the ethnographic data collected during field research in Japan,
Korea, and the Netherlands, this paper focuses from the perspective of
critical anthropology on the meaning of the concept of human rights, as it is
used in the politics of the comfort women movement for redress. "Comfort
women" categorically refers to tens of thousands of young women of
various nationalities and social circumstances who became sexual laborers
for the Japanese troops before and during World War II. The question of the
wartime forced recruitment of comfort women was first raised in the Japanese
Diet in 1990, and Korean survivors filed a class action suit against the
Japanese government in 1991. Japan finally set up the nominally non-governmental
Asian Women's Fund in 1995 in order to deal with the compensation demands for
former comfort women. Feminist and human rights activists, however, criticized
Japan for shirking its legal responsibility and rejected to accept any money
from the Fund. In the Philippines, the Fund controversy resulted in the split
of the women's movement leadership into two, allowing the survivors the right
to choose. In South Korea, the movement leaders left no room for the elderly
survivors to deviate from the official policy of rejecting the Fund. The
supporters of the Fund in Japan charge the Korean leadership for usurping the
rights of the individual survivors to choose the methods of redress. Is the
leadership justified or are some survivors being victimized anew?
Editor's note: The views and opinions expressed herein are solely those of
the original authors / speakers, and nothing written here, therefore, is to
be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of ICAS, its officers and
directors, and associated members. sjk
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