|Jo Yong-joo, left, and Ha Joo-young / Courtesy of Jo Yong-joo|
By Jung Min-ho
When two Korean college students embarked on an awareness campaign about the victims of Japan’s wartime sexual slavery, there were 38 Korean survivors of the crime. Now, there are 37.
On July 23, Kim Kun-ja, who was forcibly taken to frontline military brothels to serve Japanese soldiers during World War II, died at a shelter for “comfort women,” a euphemism for such victims. She was 91.
For Jo Yong-joo and Ha Joo-young, who have been cycling from Los Angeles to New York to raise awareness of the issue in the United States, it was heartbreaking news and a reminder that there is not much time left.
One of their objectives is to urge U.S. politicians, including President Donald Trump, to join international efforts to convince the Japanese government to apologize to the survivors before it is too late.
The name of their project is Triple A, which stands for “admit, apologize and accompany.” They call on the Japanese government to admit to its past wrongdoings toward the women and apologize to them.
“Until then, we will encourage everyone to accompany the women in their fight for justice. That’s what it means,” Jo said in an interview.
Jo believes it is an issue of human rights rather than a diplomatic one. “In addition to Korea, young women from China, the Philippines, the Netherlands and many other countries were victimized. This is why I think it should be called a crime against humanity,” he said.
During their ride, they staged demonstrations in front of the Japanese consulates in several major cities, including Chicago and Philadelphia, in support of the “Wednesday Demonstration,” which has held outside of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul every week since January 1992.
Along the way, they’ve also talked to many journalists and anyone else they met. Some were impressed by what they do and gave them support, while others showed little interest. Altogether, it was a great learning experience for them.
“At some point, we decided to give up our businesslike approach and tried more to mingle with people in conveying our message,” Jo said.
The journey has been rough for the students, who encountered various challenges, such as scorching desert heat, storms and headwinds.
“It was really tough in the beginning, but we became more and more used to cycling,” he noted.
But it was also a beautiful ride. “We had the most breathtaking view on a mountain in New Mexico. It was totally worth hours of our effort to reach the top,” Ha said.
They are expecting a similar sense of achievement early next month at the end of their trip in New York City.