Published On: Fri, Mar 23rd, 2018

South Korean Court Rules on US Troops

In South Korea’s flawed democracy, lawsuits against the government for violation of human rights hardly ever succeed. Information to use as evidence are in the government’s hands and resources available to accusers are hard to come by.

But in June 2014, a group of women sued the Republic of Korea for forcing them into state-sanctioned prostitution to US troops stationed in the military bases. They were the modern-day counterpart of the comfort women for the Japanese Imperial Army during World War ll, only that this time, the clients were American soldiers and there were no wars being fought.

The former camptown women had demanded an apology and compensation for the prostitution that went on with the full knowledge and encouragement of the government. On February 8 of this year, the presiding judge of Seoul High Court, Ho. Judge Lee Beom-gyun, upheld the Central District Court’s decision in favor of the women and ordered the state to pay them compensation.

Korean comfort women 1945 photo/ US archives

A peek into the history of how the camptown women came into the sex industry shows that it was borne out of the Korean War that began in 1950. The war ended in an impasse without a peace treaty. In October 1953, two months after the ceasefire, the United States and ROK signed a Mutual Defense Treaty, and military bases were set up to ensure the national security of South Korea.

The villages around the bases became camp towns, filled with bars, shops and restaurants to serve the American soldiers and maintain the massive inflow of foreign currency necessary to boost the economy. It must be remembered that South Korea after WWll and the Korean War was devastated, making it one of the poorest nations in the world at that time, with $64 per capita income. People were desperate for jobs and took anything that came along.

Many of the women who came into the camp towns say they were duped by job placement agencies and were coerced into prostitution, with the tacit consent of the ROK officials. The state’s goals were to keep the US troops in the country at all costs, even if they had to sell their women to them. The threat of another North Korean invasion is always a recurring nightmare to the government. President Nixon had ordered the withdrawal of a large component of the troops in the ‘70s, giving South Korea the jitters. Thus, the state-approved prostitution continued. It was at its high point until the 1980s but is still ongoing up to the present.

It was the discovery that the Ministry of Gender Equality had withheld information that drove these second-generation comfort women to sue the state. A document titled “Measures to Clean Up Women in the Jungchon” disclosed that a committee had ordered the Ministry to inspect villages around the bases and treat women with sexually transmitted diseases, provide clean water, and rearrange surroundings at the villages. It was signed by former dictator and president Park Chung-hee.

In the court ruling, official documents from the Ministry of Health and Welfare revealed that South Korea actively encouraged these women to offer sexual services to the US troops to promote a healthy military alliance. To avoid complications, the comfort women were ordered to have tests for sexually transmitted disease once a week. Those found positive were forcibly held in prisons and treated before releasing them. These details can be found in “Sex Among Allies,” a book written by Katharine H.S. Moon, published by the Columbia University Press.

The camptown women’s lawsuit and subsequent court ruling is embarrassing for the South Korean government, coming at the same time that President Moon Jae-in is asking Japan to issue yet another “heartfelt apology” for its crimes against comfort women during World War ll. Contradicting his demand for an apology, Moon says he will not seek a renegotiation of a 2015 “final and irreversible” settlement between former president Park Geun-hye and Japan Prime Minister Abe Shinzo. Millions of dollars in aid of the women have been previously given by Japan, aside from the latest $8.3 million.

The perpetual pursuit for the apology that eludes them exposes the hypocrisy of South Korea’s leaders. Their repulsive actions have backfired with the publication of the sorry state of the camptown women. It’s high time for Moon and the leaders who will succeed him to rethink their views on the issue, leave the past behind, and work for better ties and unification.

Author: Tommy Wyher

Tommy is a graduated of the Univsersity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In his spare time he enjoys writing about all of the happenings in the world.

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