Students in South Korea are bedding down for the night not in the warm comforts of their beds but beneath a statue of a teenage comfort woman.
For over a month, an organization of 16 university councils and student groups have acted as a flesh and blood wall to guard a statue erected in 2011, in memory of Korean women who were sexually abused by the Japanese army during World War II. Around 20 students spend the nights sleeping beneath the golden statue that stands across the street from the German Embassy in Seoul.
The protest comes in wake of Japan’s demand to remove the statue as part of the Dec. 28 agreement with South Korea over the “comfort women” issue. In past, the Seoul government insisted the transfer of the reminder of Japan’s sexual enslavement was not in their hands as it was created by human right groups.
In the diplomatic negotiations defined as “irreversible” by both Asian countries, Japan has agreed to issue an apology and to donate 1 billion yen (approximately $8.45 million) to a Korean-run foundation for the 46 surviving victims of the war. In return, Seoul would stop raising the issue in international forums and consult with the civic groups to relocate the statue if all demands are met.
“This deal has made us look like fools,” Kang Il-Chul, 87, who was forced into slavery at Japanese brothels, told The Guardian. “It was agreed without consulting us. How could they have agreed on this and pushed us to one side? I’m furious.”
The statue has since then become a rallying point for the supporters of the victims who are against the Japan-Seoul accord. Around 30 to 40 people come each day with energy drinks, warm food, blankets and heat packs to show their support for the movement, according to the students.
“The monument to the comfort women is a symbol,” said Park Yoo-mi, a 22-year-old Arabic major. “The grandmothers are still living, and because they are very old and their condition is impossible to predict, I think this problem is very urgent.”
Meanwhile, Japan has recently released a statement claiming it has been conducting full-scale research on the phenomenon of the comfort women since the 1990s when the issue first raised its head, and has failed to discover any document or testimonies that confirm the existence of Korean slave women in Japanese brothels.
South Korea has yet to respond to this latest development.