2012년 9월 29일 토요일

Korea presses Japan on wartime sexual slavery at UN

UNITED NATIONS/SEOUL (Yonhap) -- In a thinly-veiled swipe at Japan, South Korea's top diplomat urged the world to make utmost efforts to end "wartime sexual violence" and exhorted any offender to face "the dark side of its history and rectify past wrongdoings."

Addressing the U.N. General Assembly on Friday, Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan also implicitly criticized Japan for continuing to claim the South Korean islets of Dokdo, saying "no country should abuse" the rule of law to infringe upon another's territorial integrity. 

Although Kim did not mention Japan by name or directly refer to historical issues raising tensions with Tokyo in his speech, such as so-called "comfort women" and Dokdo, it was the first time South Korea has raised such issues at the U.N. assembly.

"Wartime sexual violence is a fundamental infringement of human rights, and is in fact an affront to human dignity and integrity," Kim said.

Kim urged the world to "make utmost efforts to put an end to such atrocities, not only taking all measures to protect women and girls in armed conflicts, but also providing effective remedies and reparations for victims."

"It requires a sound historical consciousness and heartfelt soul-searching on any past wrongdoings in order for solid peace and stability to be established between nations," Kim said.

The remarks were seen as taking aim at Japan over repeated denials of its legal responsibility over the issue of "comfort women," a euphemistic reference to up to 200,000 women, mostly from Korea, who were forced to serve as sexual slaves for front-line Japanese soldiers during World War II.

The matter is one of the most emotional pending issues between Korea and its former colonial ruler, Japan. Seoul has repeatedly stressed that the issue should be resolved urgently as most victims are elderly and may die before they receive compensation or an apology from Tokyo.

Japan has so far ignored Seoul's demand for official talks on the matter, claiming all issues regarding its colonial rule were settled in a 1965 package compensation deal reached when the two established diplomatic relations.

"A country's true valor is proven when it confronts the dark side of its history and endeavors to rectify past wrongdoings," Kim said.

Diplomatic tension remains high between South Korea and Japan following the unprecedented Aug. 10 visit to Dokdo by Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who cited Tokyo's unrepentant attitude over its brutal 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula as a key reason for the trip.

In his U.N. speech this week, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said his nation has "consistently" accepted the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and called for strengthening the rule of law in resolving territorial disputes, in an apparent message taking aim at South Korea.

Korea has flatly rejected a Japanese proposal to take the issue of Dokdo to the ICJ, saying that no territorial dispute exists regarding Dokdo and the matter is not one to be dealt with through diplomatic negotiations or judicial settlement.

The South Korean foreign minister warned that Japan should not "abuse" the rule of law.

"It is the firm conviction of the Korean government that respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty as enshrined in the United Nations Charter should be the guiding principle for stable international relations," Kim said.

"No country should abuse international legal procedures and the notion of the rule of law in order to infringe upon the territorial integrity and sovereignty of other countries, or to distort the historical justice," he said.

Dokdo, which lies closer to Korea in the body of water between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, has long been a thorn in relations between the two countries. Korea keeps a small police detachment on the islets, effectively controlling them.

Korea views Tokyo's claims to Dokdo as a sign Japan has not fully repented for its imperialist past and a denial of Korea's independence because the country reclaimed sovereignty over all of its territory, including Dokdo, after the colonial rule ended.

On North Korea, Kim said the North's "nuclear program continues to pose a threat not only to the security of the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia, but indeed to the very basis of the international non-proliferation regime."

Kim called on North Korea to "take concrete measures aimed at denuclearization which will also open an avenue to improving the livelihood of its people."

Ending his speech, Kim asked the U.N. member states to solicit their support for Seoul's bid for two-year Security Council membership. The world body is scheduled to take a vote on the Korean bid on Oct. 18. South Korea, which last sat on the council in 1996-1997, aims to return to the council for 2013-2014.

"A country that has risen from the ashes of war, we have learned the values of peace and security. It is in this context that we earnestly hope to have the opportunity to promote such values by serving as a non-permanent member of the Security Council for the 2013-14 term," Kim said.

Korea "is determined to fulfill this role with the greatest enthusiasm and devotion. We hope the member states of the UN understand and support our bid for the membership," Kim said.