S. Korea blasts Japan for history distortion at UN debate

South Korea blasted Japan’s distorted view of history at a U.N. Security Council open debate on “War, its lessons, and the search for a permanent peace,” on Jan 29. 2014. China and North Korea also voiced criticism over Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s recent visit to the Yasukuni Shrine. Below is the full text of the address Mr. Oh Joon, S. Korea’s Ambassador to the U.N., delivered at the debate. – Editor’s note

With this year marking the centennial of the First World War (WWI), the theme of today’s debate is both timely and relevant. This debate enables us to reflect anew on the scourge of past conflicts and lessons learned. We would also like to seek ways to prevent conflicts and consolidate peace for future generations.

While several factors can be cited as triggers for the outbreak of WWI, we cannot deny that parochial nationalism and mistrust among states led to the war. There was an obvious lack of understanding and tolerance among parties to the conflict.

On this centennial anniversary of the First World War, we believe that genuine recognition of and remorse over past wrongdoings is the first step towards preventing another war and securing durable peace. George Santayana, the American philosopher and poet left the famous saying that “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The fact that the world witnessed the horrors of WWII, only two decades after the First World War, illustrates humanity’s failure to learn from the lessons of history.

Unfortunately, in our region, Northeast Asia, tensions are rising more than ever before due to the distrust among states. And this, in large part, stems from the fact that the Japanese leadership has a distorted view of what happened during the time of imperialism.

In Europe, in striking contrast to Asia, for example, Germany’s steadfast efforts after the war to come to terms with its past served as the basis for genuine reconciliation with other countries. This paved the way towards European integration. Japan, however, has not been able to properly address or break away from its militarist past. This is the underlying reason behind many of the recurring conflicts over historical issues in the region.

Recently, many Japanese leaders have continuously shown an attitude of historical revisionism, by paying tribute to the Yasukuni shrine, where its past history of aggression is glorified, by making irresponsible remarks that the definition of “aggression” has yet to be established, and by passing on distorted historical views to its next generation through revising school textbooks.

Oh Joon, center, South Korea’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, speaks during a U.N. Security Council open debate at the UN headquarters on Jan. 29, 2014. China, South Korea and North Korea blasted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s recent visit to the notorious Yasukuni Shrine at the debate. (Photo : Xinhua/NEWSis)

“Comfort women” issue unsettled

Japanese political leaders’ worshipping at the Yasukuni shrine, where Class A war criminals are enshrined, is a direct challenge to the foundation on which Japan rejoined the international community in the post-War world.

Such remarks and actions undermine future-oriented relations and peace building among nations in the region. They also run counter to the objectives and spirit of the United Nations, which reflect the aspirations of peoples for peace after experiencing the most horrendous war in history.

Recently, the Japanese government has emphasized its contribution to global peace with the policy of “proactive contribution to peace.” However, one cannot but wonder how Japan can play such a role, when it is actually creating more troubles with countries in the region. If Japan seriously wishes to contribute to regional and global peace, it should refrain from provoking its neighbors with its denial of history.

An issue that is not only a serious concern for East Asian countries but for the whole international community, is the so-called “comfort women.” In the United Nations, this issue has been discussed in the context of women’s rights, the exploitation of women in conflicts, war crimes, and the prevention of torture, among others.

Indeed, January 26 was a very sad day for the Korean people. One woman who was taken by force by the Japanese Imperial Army to suffer as an “enforced sex slave” passed away. This leaves the total number of surviving “comfort women” at 55. The “comfort women” issue, which is at the core of the pending problems between Korea and Japan, is also an important universal women’s rights issue.

The UN reports of the 1990s, submitted by Ms Coomaraswamy and Ms McDougall, stated that the “comfort women” issue is one of “sexual slavery in armed conflicts,” which requires acceptance of legal responsibility, compensation and the punishment of perpetrators. In 2007, US Congress and EU Parliament passed resolutions respectively calling on the Japanese government to accept historical or legal responsibility, apologize and pay compensation. As such, this enforced sexual slavery represents a breach of the conscience of humanity.

The Japanese government has yet to take responsibility for this issue. During the General Assembly here last year, the Japanese delegation mentioned Japan’s contributions to the victims of sexual violence in armed conflicts. But they said nothing about the “comfort women.” If their definition of the “victims of sexual violence in armed conflicts” does not include the “comfort women,” is this a case of double standards or a denial of the past? The Japanese government should urgently pay heed to the calls of the victims of its crimes and the international community. They should act by instilling a spirit of peace and reconciliation in its younger generation through correctly teaching the lessons of history.

Having said all of these, I still believe we should look to the future. History should move forward. We need to move on. But, to do so, if not for any other reasons, just to move on, we should face past history and stand on its lessons.

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