Japan Keeps Hiding Truth Behind UNESCO Heritage Site

  • By Roh Suk-jo

    December 07, 2020 12:53

    The Japanese government continues to hide the dark history of forced labor behind industrial sites that gained UNESCO world heritage status.

    According to the Foreign Ministry here on Dec. 4, Japan has yet to fulfill its pledge to commemorate the Korean victims of forced labor at 23 industrial facilities that played a key role in Japan's industrialization. The island country recently submitted a progress report on the issue to the World Heritage Committee, which still glosses over that thousands of Koreans were forced to labor there.

    When the industrial sites were granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 2015, the Japanese government admitted that Korean slave labor was used at some of them during the 1910-45 occupation and promised to commemorate the victims and set up an information center about the brutal history.

    But the Japanese government failed to live up to the pledge, and the exhibition center that opened in Tokyo in June this year makes no mention of the often brutal conditions Korean laborers were subjected to and claims that there was "no discrimination" against them.

    The Foreign Ministry then lodged a protest and demanded that the truth be revealed.

    Hashima Island

    Some five months later, the Japanese government turned to foreign experts to consult on the issue and submitted the progress report but still tried to downplay the forced labor issue. The Foreign Ministry said it plans to lodge another protest against Japan at UNESCO.

    The Japanese government claims the report was based on consultation with foreign experts and based on model cases around the world. But the experts came from Australia and the U.K., and no experts from Korea were involved, according to the ministry.

    There is also no mention of how the Japanese government chose the "model cases" for reference. The Korean government here wants Japan to model the exhibits on Germany's Rammelsberg Mining Museum, which is also a UNESCO world heritage site and frankly documents its dark history during the Nazi period.

    The UNESCO World Heritage Committee has only recommended that Japan continue dialogue with Korea, but Japan has made no attempt to involve Korea in whatever its effort to commemorate the sites. "We continue to propose talks with the Japanese government, but it is not responding to our requests," a ministry official said.

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