Fellow Koreans, Japanese military comfort women victims and their relatives, other relevant officials,
The Japanese Military Comfort Women Victims Memorial Day has been designated as a national commemorative day, and the first official national ceremony is being held today to mark the occasion.
Twenty-seven years ago today, Kim Hak-sun, a comfort woman victim, went public with her tragic story for the first time among the survivors. During the following nearly three decades, noble and courageous acts by elderly victims have continued. Their courage has made this meaningful day possible.
First of all, I bow my head low in tribute to the souls of victims who are laid to rest here at the National Cemetery for Overseas Koreans. They prevailed over their unspeakably painful time and long years of unceasing hardships even after liberation. With a resolve to fulfill the historic duties entrusted to us, I pray for the rest and repose of their souls.
Their lost years are a period that we must never forget. The Republic of Korea is greatly indebted to and has learned a lot from them.
The comfort women issue has long been covered up and denied even after the country was liberated. Not being able to share their ordeals even with their family members, the elderly victims had to carry on with their lives, bottling up their pain. This situation arose because their own country chose to avert its eyes rather than warmly embrace them.
It was not the country but the victims themselves that helped the truth come to the surface. Breaking the wall of silence, they began to give testimonies as to what they had suffered and made appeals on the streets, in lecture halls, in courtrooms, in Korea, in Japan and in many other countries.
Our society's interest in the issue has soared greatly, and the scope of our solidarity has broadened significantly, thereby encouraging many other victims in other countries. On top of this, such progress has been of great help for increasing the international community's interest in and facilitating pertinent discussions about women's rights and sexual violence during wartime.
The issue of comfort women is not simply a historical matter between Korea and Japan but rather a matter of sexual violence against women during wartime as well as the universal human rights of women.
Almost every year, resolutions are adopted and recommendations are issued to call for the resolution of the comfort women issue by all human rights-related organizations under the United Nations and many countries across the globe.
Now, our elderly victims are lending a helping hand to victims of sexual violence in wartime through the "Butterfly Fund," going beyond their demand to restore their honor. They say, "We understand how much pain they are experiencing as we went through the suffering ourselves." It resonates so broadly. The victims have sublimated their pain and suffering and are putting their philosophy of human rights and peace into practice even at this moment.
Tomorrow marks the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of our country. However, genuine liberation has yet to come for our senior victims. This weighs heavily on my mind.
Only when their dignity and honor are restored and their wounded hearts healed can the issue of the comfort women be resolved.
The Government will continue to communicate with comfort women victims with the utmost sincerity. In line with the international community’s human rights standards that stipulate a victim-centered approach, we will respect the elderly victims as the principal agents in the settlement of the issue. We will pursue wholeheartedly a commemorative project for the restoration of their honor and dignity.
The framework for the truth has been revealed thanks to victim testimonies and efforts by civil society organizations and academia, but there is still a long way to go. We will make systematic and active efforts to uncover, preserve and disseminate related records as well as educate and assist with research.
Now we have to move beyond the pain of the past and put the value of global women’s rights and peace into practice. It is our duty to rectify the history that overlooked the truth and establish justice.
I hope that this issue will not lead to a diplomatic dispute between Korea and Japan. Nor do I see this as an issue that can be solved through diplomatic solutions between the two countries.
It is an issue that can be solved only when the world, including ourselves and Japan, deeply reflects on sexual violence against all women and human rights problems and comes to a strong awareness and learns a lesson in a way that prevents this from ever being repeated.
This is the intent behind designating the Japanese Military Comfort Women Victims Memorial Day as a national commemorative day and holding the first official ceremony today.
I hope that by holding the ceremony, the people will be able to deeply empathize with the pain and voices of the victims. I hope that the surviving victims will stay healthy and with us for a long time.
Thank you very much.