A group of Japanese is set to bring to a United Nations symposium firsthand testimony against Seoul’s claims on the treatment of Korean workers on Gunkanjima during World War II, The Sankei Shimbun learned recently.
A former resident of Hashima, known as Gunkanjima (Battleship Island) in the Nagasaki area of southern Japan, and others will participate in the July 2 symposium at the U.N. in Geneva, Switzerland. The symposium will address the issue of the so-called “forced recruitment” of laborers from the Korean Peninsula in Japan’s wartime past, including allegations the Korean workers at coal mines were treated with discrimination.
While many South Korean movies and picture books have depicted Hashima as “Hell Island” for Korean workers, a former Japanese resident of the now-abandoned island said, “The Korean laborers on the island formed a common community with us Japanese and shared our fate.”
He added, “We would like to stress the fact in the symposium that we never practiced discrimination against them, and that had there been any, it would have led to destruction of our shared community and fate.”
The planned symposium will be a side event of the UN Human Rights Council meetings that are scheduled to open on June 24. Michinori Sakamoto, 65, a former Battleship Island resident, is scheduled to deliver a speech at the symposium, which will also feature a video collection of testimonies by former residents of the island.
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The July 2 symposium is sponsored by the International Research Institute of Controversial Histories (iRICH), a Japanese non-governmental think tank addressing the task of disseminating historical facts worldwide. The organization is headed by Eiji Yamashita, professor emeritus at Osaka Municipal University.
Sakamoto conducted interviews with former Gunkanjima islanders who were engaged in coal-digging jobs together with Korean workers, for the purpose of elucidating how things stood at the island’s coal mines in the wartime past. He said: “The workers in those days, irrespective of from where they hailed, shared a strong sense of cohesion. I investigated a mountain of documents concerned, but I never found any instance in which Koreans might have been treated discriminatorily.”
Also speaking at the upcoming symposium will be Lee Woo-youn, a researcher from the Nakseongdae Economic Research Institute in Seoul who is known for his dissertation on the “Myth of ‘forced recruitment’ in Korea.” Lee will explain his findings and conclusion that “the common belief that Koreans were intentionally placed in dangerous and inferior jobs differs from the facts.”
Given that false narratives concerning the “comfort women” before and during World War II were disseminated abroad through such U.N.-related meetings, iRICH has declared that there is an “urgent need to demonstrate to the United Nations the validity of Japan’s assertions in respect to the issue of the wartime recruitment of laborers.”
The institute is also preparing a written statement for submission to the U.N. Human Rights Council on the subject, showing that there was no wage discrimination or discriminatory treatment of Korean workers by Japanese companies in the wartime past and there were no illegalities in the wartime recruitment of Korean workers.
(Click here to read the article in Japanese.)
Author: The Sankei Shimbun