The memorial is set to be unveiled June 30 at Blackburn Park 2, a small park tucked within a mixed-use development adjacent to the main Blackburn Park. The sculpture is intended to honor women sexually trafficked by the Japanese military during World War II, according to the city and organizers. The sculpture was originally offered to the Center for Civil and Human Rights, but the museum eventually declined to put the memorial on its Downtown campus.
The Japanese government in 2015 formally apologized for the “comfort women” system in a pact with Korea.
But in a June 16 interview with the Reporter at the Japanese consulate in Buckhead, Consul General Takashi “Thomas” Shinozuka said the women were “not sex slaves and not taken by force. Maybe you know that in Asian culture, in some countries, we have girls who decide to go to take this job to help their family.”
“No evidence has been found about that,” he said of the standard historical description of the women being forced into sex, as well as about a debated figure that about 200,000 women were victims of the system.
Those comments are drawing criticism broadcast everywhere from local press releases to Korean TV news. Much of the criticism highlights the term “paid prostitutes,” which was a Reporter paraphrase of Shinozuka’s comments, not a direct quote. Regardless, the controversy is about his overall denial of the “comfort women” system.
Cho June-hyuck, a spokesperson for South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, condemned Shinozuka’s comments in a press conference translated and broadcast June 27 by the South Korean English-language TV news channel Arirang News.
“If the report is true, it’s unbelievable that such a high-ranking diplomat would make that statement,” the spokesperson said. “It would be a really inappropriate remark that goes against the international community’s consensus that the ‘comfort women’ issue is about wartime sexual violence, and that it was a gross violation of human rights.”
The South Korean consulate in Atlanta could not be reached for comment.
The Atlanta Comfort Women Memorial Task Force, which commissioned the Brookhaven statue, also blasted Shinozuka’s comments. In a press release, the Task Force said his comments “denying the comfort women history by calling the sexually enslaved women ‘paid prostitutes’ marks the first time in recent memory that an official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan has made such an extreme statement. Previously, it was the extreme neo-conservative nationalist right-wing faction of Japan that had uttered such unheralded levels of denialism.”
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