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A diplomatic call for comfort women

Rep. Schiff asks Secretary of State to focus on issue as ceremony honors former victim.

January 30, 2014|By Brittany Levine, brittany.levine@latimes.com
  • Kuk Jo and Jong Jo, both of Long Beach, bow in prayer with Los Angeles resident Soo Kim standing behind them at a memorial for Hwang Keum-ja, one of 55 remaining comfort women survivors who died on Jan. 25, 2014 in Korea, at the comfort-women statue in Central Park in Glendale on Thursday, January 30, 2014.
Kuk Jo and Jong Jo, both of Long Beach, bow in prayer with… (Tim Berger / Staff…)

Rep. Adam Schiff urged the country’s top diplomat this week to press Japanese political leaders to formally recognize women used as sex slaves by the Imperial Army during World War II.

The Burbank Democrat, along with two of his Congressional colleagues, sent the letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the same week as Korean supporters of a Glendale statue honoring so-called comfort women hosted an incense ceremony at the monument to honor a former victim who died last Saturday.

PHOTOS: Memorial ceremony for recently deceased comfort woman

“We recognize that this issue is deeply important to our constituents and should be a diplomatic priority for the Department of State,” he wrote, along with New Jersey Reps. Scott Garrett and Bill Pascrell.

All three have comfort-women memorials in their districts.

“Several of us feel that Japan can make a more full and consistent recognition of what happened to the comfort women,” Schiff said during a phone interview.

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In 2007, Congress passed a resolution calling on the Japanese government to issue a formal apology to the comfort women. In the 1990s, a former Japanese prime minister sent letters of apology to former comfort women, but supporters say that wasn’t enough, pointing to a segment of Japanese people that continue to deny as many as 200,000 women were forced into prostitution by that country’s military.

The opposition persists despite the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Japan declaring that some women were coerced and deprived of their freedom as well as numerous survivors publicly sharing harrowing tales of servitude.

Glendale has become ground zero for the comfort-women controversy since the city installed an 1,100-pound statue in Central Park in July. Since then, three delegations of Japanese politicians — both local and national — have visited Glendale and called on the city’s leaders to remove the memorial.

“Periodically there are very prominent Japanese public officials who make erroneous and hurtful comments about what was done to the comfort women,” Schiff said in the interview. “It’s clear that there really isn’t a full recognition and reckoning at times of what Japan did during World War II.”

The bronze monument in Glendale — the first comfort-women memorial on public land on the West Coast — features a young Korean woman sitting next to an empty chair. It is often surrounded by bouquets of flowers.

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