‘I will fight until the very end’: South Korean WWII sex slavery survivor, 93, demands UN seek justice

lee yong soo
Image: EBSDocumentary
  • A South Korean woman who was subjected to sexual slavery during World War II is demanding that the United Nations seek justice by asking Japan for a formal apology and acknowledgement of full responsibility.
  • As the number of living survivors declines, 93-year-old Lee Yong-soo believes this may be her last hope at getting closure.
  • Lee and other international sexual slavery survivors subitted a petition last week to take the issue to the UN’s International Court of Justice.
  • Lee first told her story to the world in 1992 and has been fighting for justice ever since, expressing that she will continue to advocate for herself and other victims “until the very end.”
  • At the age of 16, Lee was taken from her home and forced into serving as a sex slave for the Japanese Imperial Army while enduring harrowing abuse at a Japanese military brothel in Taiwan.
  • Of 239 women who registered with the Seoul government as victims of wartime slavery, only 12 remain alive today.

Lee Yong-soo, a woman who was subjected to sexual slavery during World War II under the Imperial Japanese Army, is demanding that the United Nations (UN) seek justice by asking Japan to formally apologize and take full responsibility.

After being inspired by Korean human rights activist Kim Hak-sun, Lee told her story to the world in 1992. She described having been dragged away from home at 16 and forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army. Lee faced harrowing torture and abuse at a Japanese military brothel in Taiwan until the end of the war.

With the number of survivors declining, Lee believes that her recent plea to the UN may be her last hope in getting closure. Of the 239 women that registered with the Seoul government as victims, only 12 remain alive today.

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Lee believes that the historical dispute between South Korea and Japan cannot be settled without the involvement of the UN and has been campaigning for the issue to be taken to the UN’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) since last year.

The 93-year-old leads an international group of sexual slavery survivors and advocates and who sent a petition to the UN last week demanding that the organization take the issue to the ICJ.

The group asked South Korea to call for an arbitration of whether Tokyo has failed to comply with the 1984 Convention Against Torture by downplaying or failing to acknowledge their past war crimes, should Japan fail to jointly bring the case to the ICJ.

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In 2015, the ministers of both South Korea and Japan reached an agreement that Japan would send 1 billion yen (approximately $8 million) to a South Korean fund that helps to support the survivors. Lee and the other survivors stated that the Seoul officials had not consulted with them in regards to the agreement, following controversial comments made by Japanese government leaders, leading them to question the sincerity of the gesture. 

Japan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry has described recent lawsuits filed by the victims as being “extremely regrettable and absolutely unacceptable,” while urging Seoul to comply with the agreement that was settled in 2015. They also stated that their government had not found documents proving that sexual slavery had occured through force by Japan’s Imperial Army.

Lee expressed to the Associated Press office in Seoul that she would not stop fighting “until the very end” to receive justice.

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“Both South Korea and Japan keep waiting for us to die, but I will fight until the very end,” Lee said. “I think time has so far waited for me so that I can clench my teeth and do everything that I can to resolve this issue.”

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