The Lesson from Dutch Protests Against the Japanese

      January 21, 2010 13:27

      Kim Ki-chul

      Weekly protests take place at the Hague similar to the demonstrations held every Wednesday by former Korean "comfort women" in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul. A group called Stichting Japanse Ereschulden (NGO Foundation Japanese Honorary Debts) organizes the protests, which are held at noon every Tuesday in front of the Japanese Embassy there. The group's demands are quite similar to those made by the Korean women who were forced to serve as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War II: a formal apology and compensation by the Japanese government for those who lost their lives or suffered other damages due to the Japanese invasion of Asian countries during World War II. Both protests began in 1992.

      J.F. van Wagtendonk, the chairman of SJE, lost his father and grandfather to the Japanese army when Japan invaded Indonesia in 1942 and sent 300,000 Dutch residents there to prison camps. Women in their teens and 20s were also sent to prison camps and forced to serve as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers. Among them were 300 Dutch women, including Jan Ruff-O'Hearn, who was the first Western woman to reveal the brutalities of the Japanese.

      During each Tuesday protest at the Hague, a petition written in English and signed by Wagtendonk is delivered to the Japanese Embassy. The one delivered in November, which started with the words, "His Excellency Yukio Hatoyama," said the world's leaders welcome his efforts to take a different approach than his predecessors. Wagtendonk proposed making Aug. 15, 2010, which marks the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II, a day to rectify past mistakes and stressed that Japan's new international image rests in Hatoyama's hands. The one-page petition is the 180th to be delivered. SJE's website ( contains every petition that has been delivered until now.

      The petitions are not only given to the embassy but also to the prime minister of the Netherlands, the UN human rights commissioner, the head of the European parliament and the president of the United States. A petition is prepared for each protest, and each one is delivered to the top officials of related countries or organizations in a bid to add pressure on Japan. SJE played a major role in the adoption of a resolution on comfort women in 2007 by lawmakers in the U.S., EU, Canada and the Netherlands calling on the Japanese government to issue a formal apology and provide compensation.

      History remains in the memories of people, and it is of utmost importance to share those memories with others. That applies to the brutalities suffered by the comfort women as much as to France's refusal to hand over the Oegyujanggak royal archive of the Chosun Dynasty looted by French troops in 1866. Protests that are heard only within Korea may provide an outlet but leave a sense of emptiness. Just like SJE, perhaps Koreans should begin sending official letters with individual serial numbers to the French president, UNESCO and the EU parliament, reminding them of former French president François Mitterrand's promise to return the books.

      The letters would remind the world that the Korean people have not forgotten the looted books and appeal to the conscience of the French. Pressure will mount as the letters pile up. Calm and objective action is needed in order to achieve change.

      By Kim Ki-chul from the Chosun Ilbo's News Desk

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