Civil Rights Center cancels “comfort women” memorial

The Center for Civil and Human Rights has reversed a plan for a statue to commemorate the victims of World War II sexual trafficking — the so-called “comfort women” — apparently following pressure from Japanese interests.

According to the Georgia Asian Times, the center’s CEO Derreck Kayongo stated in a letter that “permanent exterior fixtures were not part of the original design or any new strategic plan” for the Center.

“We’re deeply disappointed to hear the Center is backing out of our written Agreement and work we’ve been engaging them in for 6 months now,” Baik Kyu Kim of the The Atlanta Comfort Women Memorial Taskforce told the Georgia Asian Times.

The change of heart comes less than a month after the center held a press conference announcing plans for the memorial. Invited guests included former U.S. Congresman Mike Honda from California, who addressed the group. On that occasion the center announced plans for the “installation of a permanent outdoor Memorial honoring female victims of sexual and human trafficking during World War II.”

The memorial would honor “the approximately 200,000+ women and girls throughout Asia and the Dutch East Indies who were trafficked and sexually enslaved before and during World War II by the Japanese Imperial Army,” the center wrote on its website. “Known as the “comfort women,” their tragedy is one of the largest known cases of human trafficking in the 20th century.”

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A letter obtained by the Georgia Asian Times from a Ken Kato, who identifies himself as “director of human rights in Asia” calls the memorial movement a “vicious defamation campaign” and refutes the accounts of the historic trafficking, saying that the women were prostitutes who were “very well paid and well treated.”

In 2007 the U.S House of Representatives passed a non-binding resolution demanding an apology from Japan for the sexual trafficking of girls and young women during World War II, a resolution introduced by Congressman Honda. Helen Ho, special advisor to the task force, said pressure from the Japanese consul influenced the decision by the Center for Civil and Human Rights center to back away from the memorial.

Similar pressure was brought to bear on San Francisco, a city with a large Japanese-American population, when a comfort women memorial was created there, said Ho, but it did not deter the city from its plans.

“If (San Francisco) could put up that memorial and there is no economic reprisal, then what’s Atlanta’s excuse?” asked Ho.

Calls to the Center for Civil and Human Rights were not immediately returned Friday morning.

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