Controversy over US 'comfort women' plaques

Controversy over US 'comfort women' plaques

After noticing plaques at the local courthouse commemorating slavery, the Holocaust and other atrocities, Korean-American community leader Chejin Park had the idea of adding a tribute to the "comfort women" of World War II.

To his surprise, the gesture to honor the more than 200,000 mostly Korean and Chinese women forced to provide sex for Japanese soldiers would make his New Jersey town a flashpoint in an international controversy.

Local officials rejected a request by Japanese officials to take down the first plaque put up just over two years ago in Palisades Park, just outside New York City, where a majority of residents are of Korean descent.

But now the dedication of a second marker, this one at the courthouse, has been held up until the wording can be changed to remove a reference to the Japanese government.

The top government official in Bergen County, Kathleen Donovan, said the delay is not due to any new pressure from Japan.

The county's legislative body asked the second plaque state that Japan's Imperial army, not the Japanese government, was responsible for what happened to the women, Donovan said.

"Our monument is not anti-Japanese government; it is pro-comfort women," she said. "We want to be very clear that it was the Imperial Japanese armed forces and not the government that, according to our historical research, committed these acts."

Some surviving women and their supporters have held a weekly vigil in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul for more than two decades, saying that an apology issued by a Japanese government official in 1993 has failed to convince South Koreans that Japan is truly contrite.

The issue is an important one for Bergen County, where the Korean population has quadrupled since 1990 and now accounts for nearly 8 percent of the county's more than 900,000 residents.

Park, an attorney, worked with a memorial committee to build and finance the memorials.

"These memorials are simply stating the fact that it happened, and Japan is arguing that it didn't happen," Park said. "We just see the issue as a human rights issue. We see comfort women survivors screaming for justice."

A similar memorial has since been built in Los Angeles, and plans are under way to build them in San Francisco, Georgia, New York, Illinois and Massachusetts, he said.