international symposium korea-japan_02

Etsuro Totsuka, a Japanese lawyer specializing in human rights, on Dec. 10 gives a speech on victims of forced labor by Japan and international law in the first session of an international symposium held at Hotel President in Seoul. (Kim Sunjoo)

By Kim Eun-young and Kim Minji

Seoul | Dec. 10, 2019

“The human rights of victims must be the top priority in the development of Korea-Japan relations.”

So said Etsuro Totsuka, a Japanese lawyer specializing in human rights on Dec. 11, blasting the Japanese government’s reaction to bilateral conflicts in the first session of an international symposium held at Hotel President in Seoul.

Totsuka was the first to propose to the United Nations the use of the term “sex slave” instead of “comfort women,” the latter being a euphemism coined by Japan for the victims of sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II.

“(Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe) has such a simplistic interpretation of international law,” the lawyer said on Abe’s claim that a verdict by the Korean Supreme Court finding in favor of Korean victims of forced labor violates international law and the 1965 bilateral agreement on claims settlement, which Tokyo insists definitively resolved the issue.

“Any treaty (between countries) has no capacity to extinguish human rights,” Totsuka said, adding, “(The systems of forced labor and sexual slavery) incurred personal injury that degraded the victims’ dignity and honor.”

“What Japan did in the past constitutes crimes, slave trading and human rights violations,” he said. “The Japanese government is the one violating international law.”

Totsuka said Tokyo’s admission of the facts and a sincere apology are the first step to resolve Japan’s conflict with Korea, adding, “The two countries can develop future-oriented relations after this premise is met.”

About ten domestic and overseas scholars on Korea-Japan relations took part in the symposium, and agreed that the human rights of the victims of forced labor and sex slavery should be the priority in improving the worsened relations between Seoul and Tokyo.

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