The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

An 18-second clip released by South Korea appears to offer first footage of WWII ‘comfort women’

This is the first video showing Korean 'comfort women' (Video: Adam Taylor, Jason Aldag/The Washington Post)
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An 18-second video clip released by the South Korean government claims to show one of the darkest moments in Asia's 20th century history — the so-called “comfort women” forced to work as sex slaves by Japanese troops during World War II.

The footage, released last Wednesday, is believed to have been filmed by American soldiers in China's Yunnan Province during 1944. It was discovered by a government-funded research team from Seoul National University who spent years looking through the United States National Archives.

The footage may be the only known moving images of “comfort women” in existence. However, researchers say that of the seven Korean women featured in the video, two have appeared in previously released photographs. In the footage, the women appear to be speaking to a Chinese soldier after being freed.

Researchers say the film makes obvious that the women were being held against their will. “Their appearance, such as the bare feet, suggest they were enslaved,” SungKongHoe University professor Kang Sung-hyun, who participated in the study, told reporters at a news conference in Seoul last week.

“Due to a long-standing dispute over Japan’s wartime sexual slavery, it became crucial to come up with evidence,” Kang said. “This video clip will strengthen the admissibility of evidence behind wartime sex slavery.”

Historians now estimate that as many as 200,000 women and girls from occupied countries such as Korea, China and the Philippines were forced to work in brothels run by the Japanese Imperial Army. Once little acknowledged in South Korea or Japan, the issue came to the forefront when survivors of the practice began speaking out in the 1990s. In December 2015, Seoul and Tokyo reached an agreement that they said would “finally and irreversibly” resolve the dispute, with Japan agreeing to put $8.3 million into a fund to support the 46 South Korean survivors still living at that point.

However, finding a lasting solution to the issue has long proven difficult, with activist groups in South Korea refusing to accept the government-led agreement and funding statues of “comfort women” around the world — to the Japanese government's considerable anger. South Korea's gender equality minister, Chung Hyun-back, said Monday that Seoul's new government planned to establish a museum to commemorate the women.

“The government plans to build the museum for the comfort women in a place easily accessible so that it can play a role as a mecca for people to remember and recall the human rights violations that the war brought,”  Chung told reporters.

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