Comfort-women statue dispute continues in California
By Brittany Levine | The Glendale (Calif.) News-Press | Published: February 22, 2014
GLENDALE, Calif. — A Glendale resident, along with a Los Angeles resident and a nonprofit group, filed a lawsuit this week asking a federal judge to force the city of Glendale to remove a controversial statue in a public park that honors women victimized by the Japanese government during World War II.
The lawsuit is the latest attempt to remove the 1,100-pound statue for so-called “comfort women,” which was installed in July.
Supporters of comfort women say the Japanese military coerced an estimated 80,000 to 200,000 women from Korea, China and other countries to work as prostitutes in military brothels against their will. Three delegations have visited Glendale in recent months requesting its removal.
The plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit in U.S District Court on Thursday, disagree with international historical understanding of what occurred during World War II, and claim, like Japanese politicians have in the past, that the Japanese government was not involved in sexual slavery.
The lawsuit was filed even though many former comfort women have publicly shared stories of their coercion and the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has stated that some comfort women working in brothels overseen by the government were deprived of their freedom.
According to the lawsuit, installing the statue “exceeds the power of Glendale, infringes upon the federal government's power to exclusively conduct the foreign affairs of the United States and violates the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution.”
The lawsuit goes on to state that “by installing the public monument, Glendale has taken a position in the contentious and politically-sensitive international debate concerning the proper historical truth of the former comfort women.”
Glendale is not the first public agency in the United States to install a comfort-woman monument on public land, but it is the first city on the West Coast to do so. Valued at about $30,000, Glendale's statue in Central Park, which features a woman in Korean garb sitting next to an empty chair, has reawakened an international debate.
Michiko Shiota Gingery, the Glendale resident who filed the lawsuit, said in the court filing that because of the statue, she can no longer enjoy Central Park and she suffers “feelings of exclusion, discomfort and anger” due to the bronze monument, which is often surrounded by bouquets of flowers.
The co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit are GAHT-US Corp,, an organization that has a mission to fight against the recognition of comfort women, and its president, Koichi Mera, a Los Angeles resident who has helped organize the Japanese delegation visits to Glendale.
Phyllis Kim, spokeswoman for the Korean American Forum of California, which helped pay for the Glendale statue, said the lawsuit will not deter her organization from spreading awareness about the comfort-women issue.
“The root cause of this wasteful dispute is the fact that the government of Japan has never taken the full responsibility for its crimes against humanity,” she said in a statement. “To this day, it is trying to cover up, downplay and justify their past crimes instead of offering an official, sincere apology and sticking to it like (the) Germans did.”
In the 1990s, a former Japanese Prime Minister sent personal apologies to former comfort women, but supporters want an official apology penned by the Japanese parliament, known as the Diet.
In general, local governments have jurisdiction over placing memorials in local parks, but the lawsuit argues that due to its negative impact on foreign relations with Japan, it should be uprooted.
According to the lawsuit, Glendale also violated its own city code by installing the statue without a City Council vote on the language etched onto a plaque that is on the ground next to the monument and tells the history of comfort women.
The City Council did vote to approve the statue, but did not publicly review the plaque wording.
City officials said on Friday they would not comment on the lawsuit as they had yet to review and analyze the claims.