The UNESCO International Advisory Committee (IAC) deferred its decision on the listing of the comfort women archives on its Memory of the World Register, a programme which is an international initiative launched to safeguard the documentary heritage of humanity throughout the world.
An official proposal was drawn and submitted in May 2016 by 15 civic groups from eight countries, including South Korea, China, Japan and the Netherlands.
The groups submitted a total of 2,744 documents to UNESCO as part of its application to have the materials related to comfort women listed in the Memory of the World Registry and to prove Japan’s cruelties on comfort women during World War II.
The documents, including court records and evidence brought by the victims, are regarded as “only and unreplaceable resources” on the tragic history that continues to haunt relations with Japan.
An estimated 80,000 to 200,000 comfort women, mostly from Korea but also China, Taiwan, the Philippines, and other parts of Asia are known to have been forced into sexual slavery during the Japanese colonial rule of Korea (1910-45).
According to the official announcement from UNESCO published on its website, “the International Advisory Committee of the Memory of the World Programme, following the decision of the Executive Board of UNESCO in its meeting on 16 October 2017 (202 EX/PX/DR 15.8, item 15), recommends to the Director-General that UNESCO facilitates a dialogue among the nominators of the nominations “Voices of the ‘Comfort Women’” and “Documentation on ‘Comfort Women’ and Japanese Army discipline” and concerned parties.”
The IAC also recommended “setting a place and time convenient to the parties for this dialogue, with a view to leading to a joint nomination to encompass as far as possible all relevant documents.”
As for the IAC’s deferred decision, many Koreans believe that the Japanese government made all-out efforts to block the listing, using Japan’s share of UNESCO financing as leverage.
Japan is the second-largest donor to the UNESCO program, after the United States at 22%. Japan’s contribution accounts for almost 10% of the total, or about US$39 million. However, since the U.S. announced its withdrawal from the U.N agency by the end of 2018, Japan is forecast to be the largest contributor.
Japan’s constant attempts to block the enlisting is thought to have continued as the International Advisory Committee (IAC) of UNESCO held the 13th meetings to decide whether to register the nominated documents on comfort women.
The Foreign Ministry in Seoul expressed regret over the UNESCO’s decision to postpone the decision to review the nominated documents, saying in a statement that it is “opposed to any moves aiming to undermine the historical truth.”
The ministry added that “we will continue possible diplomatic efforts to make the records of comfort women objectively and fairly evaluated going forward."
A South Korean civic group also expressed its voice on Oct. 31, saying that the goal of the proposal was not to blame Japan‘s wartime cruelties. Rather, the group claimed that its efforts is to preserve a historical evidence of women’s rights and learn lessons on how the victims overcame the pain of their past.
Meanwhile, the IAC’s decision sparked a criticism instantly from the Korean Committee for the Joint Listing of Comfort Women on UNESCO. The Committee held the press conference on Oct. 31 at the North East Asian History Foundation, Seoul, announcing that “we seek to solidify our efforts with other nations to examine whether the Japanese government pushed for and influenced the decision IAC of UNESCO made.”
In compliance with the UNESCO guidelines, up to four years of dialogue with Japan is needed for the registration of documents on comfort women.
UNESCO, however, recommended the nomination of "Joseon Tongsinsa," which consists of old diplomatic records of Korean envoys to Japan, a royal seal and an investiture book collection of the Joseon Dynasty, as well as archives of the National Debt Redemption movement from 1907 to 1910. South Korea so far has 16 historical items recognized by UNESCO's Memory of the World initiative.
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