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Behind the story: how the first-ever video of Korean ‘comfort women’ was unveiled last July.Jeju-born professor’s years of relentless efforts to discover the 18-second long video clip
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승인 2017.09.08  16:48:11
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The rare video clip of Korean ‘comfort women’ forced to works as sexual slaves by Japanese troops during World War Two was unveiled in July, 2017.

The 18-second-long black and white footage features seven women, including a pregnant woman, lined up outside the brick house that served as a military brothel for Japanese soldiers.

The young women featured in the video are all barefoot. Some look anxious while others look down as they are presumably interrogated by a Chinese soldier after being freed.

The pregnant woman in the video was confirmed in 2000 to be Park Young-shim (from earlier photos), a sex slave victim who died in 2006. This footage was filmed in China’s Yunnan Province, on Sept. 8, 1944.

-The seven women featured in the footage are not all Korean.

“Unlike what was reported by much of the news coverage from Korean and international media, the seven women featured in the footage are not all Korean. While, five of the women are obviously Korean, or to be exact, Choseon women (as one is from North Korea), two are Japanese with one being a dealer and the other a comfort woman,” said Kang Sung-hyun (42), a Jeju-born professor at SungKongHoe University at an interview with The Jeju Weekly on Sept. 7, 2017.

This photo is believed to have been taken in China’s Yunnan Province, in 1944 after the comfort women were liberated. The pregnant woman in the photo was identified as Park Young-shim, comfort woman victim (Pyeongyang, North Korea) who died in 2006. Photo courtesy the Human Rights Center, Seoul National University.

The video was first opened to the public in July, 2017 through a press briefing held in Seoul by a research team of the Human Rights Center, Seoul National University.

Prof. Kang is a leading researcher who discovered the rare footage. The project to hunt for photos, images, videos, and documents on comfort women is an ongoing project that will last until at least next year. It is funded by Park Won-soon the mayor of Seoul.

He and his team started to take up this research from Thailand and the United States three years ago and plan to expand to the U.K and maybe other countries next year.

“Discovering the footage was like looking for someone with the family name Kim (the common family name in Korea) in Seoul. Out of more than 10,000 film reels stored at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in the US, our team narrowed it down to 200 targeted reels based on our primary extensive research. Even that process took more than two years.”

The short video clip is believed to have been filmed by Sergeant Edwards C. Fay and PFC (Private First Class) Hatfield who were an American motion picture cameraman and a combat photographer respectively and also worked as a team for the allied forces.

-“Japanese authorities express strong resistance to the movement.”

The Seoul city government said it has been preparing to register records of comfort women victims with the UNESCO Memory of the World since May 2016.

Last year, it applied for the enlistment in UNESCO by submitting all the required documents and the application is now under evaluation. The announcement of its decision is expected in September in Canada.

“Japanese authorities have expressed strong resistance to Seoul’s movement to register for UNESCO. Although this footage was not included as evidence as it was discovered only this year, I hope it will help raise the admissibility of evidence behind wartime sex slavery,” said professor Kang, adding that this clip could contribute to supporting evidence in the dispute over Japan’s wartime sexual slavery.

Stilled images are captured from the video clip provided by Human Rights Center, Seoul National University.

-Why did American forces keep this footage?

According to Prof. Kang, based on 1942 reports of American troops, comfort women were described as ‘prostitutes’ or ‘Geisha girls’ which allows us to assume that American troops did not exactly know the true nature of comfort women. But in their 1944 documents, the term changed to ‘comfort women.’

Prof. Kang suggested that “the evidence, from the perspective of the American forces, might have been useful to stir up strong anti-sentiment over Japanese, leading Koreans (Choseon people) to cause an uprising against Japan. But the plan did not go as thought as the post war situation caused a change in Japan-US relations.”

“I think that’s one of the reasons why the comfort women issue has slept for so long” claimed Prof. Kang.

Stilled images are captured from the video clip provided by Human Rights Center, Seoul National University.

- Comfort women from Jeju island?

Asked whether any woman from Jeju island was forced to work as a sex slave for Japanese troops, he said:

“Yes, our team’s research found at least one woman from Jeju but it is a bit too early to tell as we are now in the complete confirmation process. It will be officially released soon though.”

As of July 2017, 38 former wartime comfort women are alive in Korea, according to government data. Up to 200,000 women, many from Korea, then a colony of Japan, are believed to have been forced to be sexually enslaved by the Japanese military during World War II.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other Japanese officials have repeatedly claimed that no concrete evidence exists of the forced recruitment of women into sexual slavery by its military.

The issue continues to strain relations between Korea and Japan even after the two countries reached an agreement in December, 2015, by which Japan agreed to put one billion yen into a fund to support the remaining victims of Korean comfort women.

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