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Resolution Overcoming Japanese Obstruction

Posted August. 02, 2007 03:05,   

Updated January. 01, 1970 09:00

한국어

A small group of Asian-Americans in their 60s and 70s, wearing white T-shirts with the bearing the slogan, “Human Rights Protection,” open the door of a congressman’s office, saying, “This is about comfort women issue.” This was a common occurrence at Capitol Hill from March to July this year.

“What brought you here?” somebody in congressman’s office would ask; to which the group would reply in broken English, “This is about comfort women,” or simply hand over pre-prepared documents, before requesting the contact information of human rights aides, and leaving.

After they left, the aides and secretaries would glance at the documents out of curiosity and realize that group were voters campaigning for House Resolution 121 (comfort women resolution), which was submitted to the House of Representatives.

Roughly two days later, a phone call would be placed to the congressman’s office to request an interview with either the lawmakers themselves or their aides. And then the person at the other end would introduce himself in fluent English as a representative of the Korean American Voters Organization, saying: “A few days ago, members of our organization visited your office. And I would like to explain their cause in detail.” Because the old people took the time to visit their office, the congressman’s aides would usually make an appointment to meet with them.

168 congressmen signed the resolution in a joint-proposal that passed the House on July 30. This is the result of the collective legwork of Korean-American voters.

Observers say that the efforts of Korean-Americans played a critical role in passing the resolution in the face of obstruction by the Japanese, who mobilized two large lobbying firms and other major lobbyists.

Korean-Americans’ efforts started in spring of 2006-

After hearing the news that Congressman Lane Evans was seeking co-introducers of the resolution, members of the Korea-American Voters Center (KAVC) in New York and New Jersey start visiting lawmakers, whose constituencies include many Korean-Americans.

Unfortunately, the resolution was thwarted by the House leadership and Mr. Evans – ‘Friend of Koreans’ – retired due to Parkinson’s disease.

Right after that, rumors have it that third generation Japanese-American congressman Mike Honda was preparing a similar resolution; but the congressman said he would push for the idea later. Korean-Americans visited Mr. Honda and said, “We want to keep the momentum. Can you introduce a resolution before the end of 2007?” To which Mr. Honda replied, “Yes.”

Wave of donation-

Mr. Honda thought that to make a successful resolution, victims’ testimony was needed. And for this he needed money.

On hearing this news, supports opened their purses. Thanks to their donations, former comfort women Lee Yong-soo, Kim Gun-ja and Jan Ruff O’Herne, a Dutch victim living in Australia, were brought to the Capitol.

Fundraising continued to place a full page ad in the Washington Post, the KAVC president recalled.

“In early April, it was said that Japanese-American Senator Daniel Inouye, of Hawaii, was moving to defeat the resolution, causing anxiety among many Koreans. A sixty-something man, who works at a barber shop in NY City, made the effort to come. He walked a long distance to save on taxi fares and delivered a white envelope containing $200 and the signatures of 300 customers, before leaving. What he did was like a shot in the arm for all of us working for this cause,” he said.

Korean-Americans’ hard work-

From March 22, Korean-Americans living in NY City charted buses and came to D.C. ten times. Mostly elderly volunteers, they visited every Congressman`s office to ask for their support.

President of the D.C. Comfort Women Group, Seo Ok-ja, won over lawmakers by emphasizing the fact that she is an old friend of Congressman Lane Evans. “I did not want to use my friend’s name but I had no other choice. I thought I had to mention my friend’s name to get lawmakers to answer my voice mail,” she said.

Some 80,000 people nationwide joined the signature collection campaign that was raised mostly by churches and Korean supermarkets. A boxful of signatures from their voters was no light to matter for lawmakers to push aside easily. The office of the chairman of the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Tom Lantos, received more than 2,000 letters via fax.

Overcoming difficulties caused by radical Chinese groups-

Japanese lobbyists argued that, “The U.S. congress should not get involved with conflicts of Northeast Asian countries. If the comfort women resolution passes, the Chinese might follow suit on the issue of the Nanking Massacre.”

In fact, some radical Chinese groups in the U.S. were trying to extend the issue of the resolution to include the Massacre. Some civic groups in Korea demanded the resolution be linked with the Rape of Nanking, criticizing Korean-American activists. Some Japanese media spread conspiracy theories that the Chinese were behind the resolution.

Because of this, Korean-Americans, who see the resolution not as a Korea-Japan issue but as human rights issue, were faced with many difficulties.



sechepa@donga.com