Comfort women statue unveiled in Sydney despite ongoing tensions

Updated August 06, 2016 19:19:59

The unveiling of a statue in Sydney honouring so-called "comfort women" during WWII is continuing to cause tension between local South Korean and Japanese communities.

The 1.5-metre statue imported from Korea symbolises the hardships endured by tens of thousands of Korean women, who were forced into servitude.

It has been unveiled at Croydon Park in Sydney's west by a former comfort woman from South Korea, Won-Ok Gil, 89, who flew in for the ceremony.

Ms Gil was forced to work in a "comfort station" at 13 years of age and was and raped hundreds of times by Japanese soldiers.

At the Sydney unveiling, she sat besides the peace monument and became too emotional to speak.

"I do not feel happy having to remember all those hard years," Ms Gil said.

Si Hyun Paik of the Peace Statute Establishing Committee said the empty chair serves as a reminder of the victims who have since passed away.

"The Peace Monument is one small way that we can honour the pain and suffering endured by the many girls and women who were drafted to become sex slaves by the Japanese wartime Government during WW2," he said.

"It is important that we remember the past and in doing so making sure sexual violence against females does not happen in the future."

Reverend Bill Crews from the Uniting Church-run charity The Exodus Foundation said last week he would put the statue in the foundation's gardens in Ashfield, after Strathfield Council refused to approve the statue's placement within its boundaries.

The charity and the local Korean community were under pressure not to display the statue.

In the past, Japan had refused to accept formal legal responsibility for the women, who were victims of sexual exploitation during WWII, including Korean, Chinese, Dutch and Australian women.

But last year, an agreement was reached between South Korea and Japan, with Japan offering an apology and compensation for surviving comfort women.

The president of the Australia-Japan Community Network, Tesshu Yamaoka, said the statue was disturbing the harmony between the two groups in Sydney.

"Nobody has ever denied the existence of the comfort women system, even the Korean Government had their own comfort women system across WWII," he said.

"Many women suffered, not only Korean women, Japanese women and many other women suffered in the war.

"We should all be sympathetic to them but we should not use the matter for a political purpose. We have to be fair."

Reverend Crews said he was angry when he heard that Strathfield Council had rejected the statue.

"I got outraged, this is a statue towards women's suffering, it doesn't have anything to do with politics," he said.

Reverend Crews said it was very moving hearing Ms Gil's story.

"This is a statue towards all women suffering, lots of women tonight will go home and be bashed by their husbands I think it represents that as well, it's the start of women saying never again.

"We are singling out those Japanese people that offended, we are not singling out Japanese people as a whole."

Reverend Crews said he would put the statue in the foundation's gardens in Ashfield today.

The Australia-Japan Community Network said in a statement that the statue was "far more than just 'honouring comfort women'".

"This is the clear evidence that the statue always comes with hatred and aggression," the statement said.

"It is extremely unfair for the Japanese community having to face this kind of one-sided intimidation while the matter has got nothing to do with the local community where we have been living in harmony with all other ethnic groups."

The comfort women peace monuments have been erected in 40 cities of Korea, seven in the US and one in Canada.

Sydney's statue is the ninth monument erected outside of Korea and the first in Australia.

Topics: world-war-2, history, women, croydon-park-2133, korea-republic-of, japan, asia

First posted August 06, 2016 16:03:24