AhnKim JeongAe, “Comfort Women” for the US Military in Korea Fight for Justice

Translated by Suzy Kim

Translator’s Introduction

The March 9, 2022 South Korean presidential election was narrowly won by the conservative People Power Party candidate, Yoon Suk-yeol, with just 0.73 percent more votes—the closest margin ever in South Korean electoral history. The decisive factor seems to have been younger voters in their 20s, whose votes overwhelmingly split along gender lines, with roughly 60 percent of women voting for Democratic Party candidate Lee Jae-myung and 60 percent of men voting for Yoon. Yoon had rallied his base on an anti-feminist platform that denied systemic gender inequality and pledged to abolish gender quotas in ministerial appointments and the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. Given that mandatory military service for men is often touted as an example of “reverse discrimination,” regardless of how dubious such claims are, the history of militarisms in the region is essential for understanding contemporary politics and the urgent calls for justice.

On this anniversary of the end of the Asia Pacific War (August 15), it is worth remembering the multiple ways in which the war’s legacies remain. Despite continuous grass-roots efforts to overcome so-called “historical problems” across East Asia, the military alliances under US hegemony continue to supersede national sovereignty or people’s welfare. The “comfort women” issue discussed in AhnKim JoengAe’s translated piece below is a case in point. The translation has been lightly edited and the original Korean follows the translation.


“I don’t want to live an abandoned existence in the country where I was born, but to be a dignified woman of this land.” 
–Plaintiff Ms. Park’s court statement

“Comfort women” as a euphemism usually refers to the hundreds of thousands of women and girls forced into a system of military sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army during the Asia Pacific War. Less well known is the fact that “comfort women” were also used by the US occupying forces in Korea and Japan after the end of the war, a practice which continued into the Korean War and thereafter.

In that sense, the “comfort women” system, whether under the Japanese, American, or Korean militaries, occurred in the context of militarism as the foundation for sexual violence against women. As part of the post-World War II order, US forces occupied Korea on September 8, 1945, south of the 38th parallel, building “camp towns,” or kijich’on, around the military bases. The founding of the Republic of Korea (ROK, or South Korea) in 1948 marked the beginning of the military security paradigm, which has remained, unchanged, as the root of the ROK-US alliance since the Korean War, when the US Army Forces in Korea (USAFIK) became a permanent presence on the peninsula. When the “Nixon Doctrine” threatened to withdraw US forces from Korea in 1968, the ROK government established and implemented a “camp town purification campaign” under the pretext of national security to justify and promote prostitution, despite its prohibition by law. The South Korean government ostensibly regarded the “comfort women” in the camp towns as “industrial workers,” “civil diplomats,” and “patriots,” but in effect controlled and managed their bodies for the US forces in Korea. The state had turned into a pimp. The policy was in direct violation of the state’s duty to protect its citizens as mandated by the constitution, since states are obligated to protect human rights, even when individuals fail to do so.

National security maintained through the silence of victims is meaningless. The 122 survivors of the USAFIK “comfort women” system resolved not to remain silent any longer, and on June 25, 2014, filed a compensation lawsuit against the South Korean government with the help of the newly formed Solidarity for USAFIK Comfort Women’s Human Rights organization. Launched on August 31, 2012, Solidarity is a coalition of local organizations such as My Sister’s Place (Durebang) and Sunlit Sisters’ Center (Haetsal) founded by US “comfort women” survivors and joined by scholars and lawyers from advocacy groups such as the National Campaign for Eradication of Crimes by US Troops in Korea, Lawyers for a Democratic Society and its Committee on US Military Problems. In its inaugural statement, the coalition declared its “main purpose was to restore the human rights of the camp town comfort women,” and “to oppose all violence against women and the structures through which such violence is reproduced, including prostitution and sexual violence due to the presence of the US military.” It further explained its aim to work toward “a society that can ultimately overcome differences in race, gender, and class, while publicizing the problems of the current US military camp towns as an international prostitution and marriage market.” Specific actions proposed included (1) filing a compensation lawsuit against the ROK and US governments, (2) enacting special laws for fact-finding and support of US military comfort women, (3) gathering and publishing the life history of the survivors, (4) promoting international solidarity with organizations in other countries with US military bases, and (5) publicity campaigns to educate the public.

For the first time in the history of the Republic of Korea, surviving women directly testified in court, supported by testimonies from clinical doctors, public officials, and scholars. On January 20, 2017, after two years and seven months of deliberations, the court officially confirmed and acknowledged that the state had perpetrated violence against the women and had violated their human rights. The verdict acknowledged that the state had failed in its obligation to protect its citizens and had created and maintained the camp towns at the request of the US military and US government, installing detention facilities and forcing victims into sexual slavery.

On February 8, 2018, the Court of Appeals went beyond acknowledging the verdict of the first trial and ruled in favor of all the plaintiffs, ordering that they be fully compensated for the violation of their human rights and dignity. The verdict held the state accountable for proactively operating and managing the camp towns through “patriotic” campaigns and the “violent management and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases by illegal means.”

However, eight years since the lawsuit was first launched, the Supreme Court has not yet reached a final decision. In the meantime, some of the 122 plaintiffs have died; three have passed away in just the last three months, and the current number of plaintiffs has been reduced to 111. In June 2019, the plaintiffs petitioned the court for a prompt ruling, requesting that “the difficult lawsuit be put to an end.” In November 2020, April 2021, and June 2022, Solidarity for USAFIK Comfort Women’s Human Rights also repeatedly urged the court for its decision, but so far the court has not issued its final judgment, offering no explanation for the delay. Delaying the ruling on such a women’s rights case disregards the plaintiff women whose rights should be protected by the judiciary; it amounts to negligence of the court’s civic duties, as it is supported by public taxes.

On April 29, 2020, the Gyeonggi Provincial Assembly passed the Ordinance in Support of Camp Town Women in Gyeonggi Province through the steadfast efforts of local groups over the past ten years. Gyeonggi Province, north of Seoul, is home to numerous US military bases and borders the De-Militarized Zone. On June 22, 2020, a similar ordinance was also passed by the Paju City Council in Gyeonggi. However, the relevant administrative department of Gyeonggi Province in charge of enforcing the above ordinance was able to cite the lack of a Supreme Court decision and thus nullify the work of the Camp Town Women’s Support Committee, which had been legally established by the Ordinance. This is why a prompt Supreme Court decision is necessary.

The Act on Fact-Finding and Support of Victims of the US Military Comfort Women Issue was submitted to the Standing Committee for Gender Equality and Family during the 19th National Assembly and has been pending ever since. The 21stAssembly is currently in session, but the subcommittee to review the bill has yet to convene because the ruling and opposition parties have not been able to reach an agreement. Furthermore, the future of the bill is uncertain due to the controversy over the existence of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family under the new Yoon Seok-yeol administration, which had campaigned on a platform to abolish it. The National Assembly has also cited the absence of a Supreme Court decision as a factor in its legislative delay. This is yet another reason why we need a prompt Supreme Court decision.

We, women, question the rationale for the state’s existence. Most of the plaintiffs are elderly, in their 70s and 80s, and they are in very poor health physically, mentally, and economically due to the long years of harm as “comfort women” for the US military. In addition to these plaintiffs, numerous US military “comfort women” scattered across the country are currently dying due to hardship and illness.

‘Delayed justice’ is not justice. The many survivors of the US military camp towns, living in the militarized and divided Korean peninsula, want justice. The delayed decision of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Korea must be made now.



AhnKim JeongAe is Co-Representative of the organization Solidarity for USAFIK Comfort Women’s Human Rights. She is a former member of the Presidential Truth Commission on Deaths in the Military, charged with investigating suspicious deaths in the South Korean military from 1948 to 2018. She also served as investigator in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Korea, which investigated state crimes against citizens committed by the military and the police, during the period from the Korean War through the authoritarian military rule of the 1980s.


한국정부를 상대로 미군위안부 국가배상소송 최종판결 지연과 문제점

안김정애 (기지촌여성인권연대 공동대표)

“나는 내가 태어난 나라에서 ‘버려진’ 존재로서가 아니라 이 땅에서 ‘당당  한’ 한 여성인격체로 살아가기를 원합니다.”
–원고 박00의 법정진술

한반도에서의 미군위안부 문제는 군사주의에 기반한 여성에 대한 성폭력이라는 측면에서 일본군위안부, 한국군위안부 문제와 동일한 맥락을 갖는다. 2차 세계대전 전후 처리 일환으로 1945년 9월 8일에 한반도 38선 이남에  진주한 주한미군은 주둔지 주변에 기지촌을 만들었다. 한국전쟁 발발 이후 현재까지 지속되고 있는 한미동맹을 근간으로 하는 군사안보 패러다임은 바뀌지  않고 있고, 특히 1968년 닉슨 독트린 발표 이후 주한미군 철수가 가시화되자  한국정부는 국가안보의 미명 하에 ‘기지촌 정화대책’을 수립· 실행하여 법률상  금지된 성매매를 정당화· 조장하는 불법행위를 자행하였다. 한국정부는 기지촌  미군 위안부 여성들을 표면상으로는 ‘산업역군,’ ‘민간외교관,’ ‘애국자’로 치켜  세우면서, 실질적으로 주한미군을 위해 이들의 몸을 직접 통제· 관리하였다. 국가가 포주였다. 이는 헌법상 명시된 국민을 보호할 의무를 국가가 저버린 행위였다. 설사 개인이 포기하더라도 국가가 지켜주어야 하는 것이 인권이다.


피해자의 침묵으로 유지되는 국가안보는 무의미하다. 122명의 피해 생존 여성들은 더 이상 침묵하지 않겠다고 결의하고, 2012년에 결성된 기지촌여성인권연대와 함께 2014년 6월 25일에 한국정부를 상대로 ‘기지촌 미군위안부국가배상청구소송’을 시작하였다. 2012년 8월 31일 출범한 기지촌여성인권연대는 미군위안부 생존자들이 활동하고 있는 두레방, 햇살사회복지 회 등 현장단체들과 주한미군범죄근절운동본부, 민주사회를위한변호사모임 미군문제연구위 원회, 관련주제 연구자와 학자들의 연대체로 구성되었다. 출범 선언문에서 “연대는 기지촌 미군위안부들의 인권회복을 주목적”으로 함을 천명하고, “미군 주둔으로 인한 성매매와 성폭력을 포함한 여성에 대한모든 폭력과, 폭력이 재생산되는 구조에 반대”하며, “국제적인 성매매 공간이자 결혼시장으로 변모하 고 있는 현재의 주한미군 기지촌의 문제를 공론화하면서 궁극적으로 인종· 성별· 계급의 차이를 극복 할 수 있는 사회를 추구”한다고 출범 이유를 밝히고 있다. 구체적인 행동으로 (1) 한·미정부를 상대로  한 국가배상소송 제기, (2) 미군위안부 문제의 진상규명 및 지원 등을 위한 특별법과 조례 제정, (3)생존 자 생애사 수집 정리 출간, (4)미군기지주둔국가 단체들과의 국제연대 도모, (5)대국민 홍보실시 등을  제시하였다.


대한민국 역사상 처음으로 생존 피해여성들의 법정에서의  직접증언이 이루어졌고, 이들의 증언을 뒷받침하는보건소 의사, 공무원, 학자들의 증언이 이어졌다. 1심 재판부는 2년 7개월 만인 2017년 1월 20일에 국가에 의한 폭력과 인권침해 사실을 공식적으로 확인· 인정하였는데, 국가가 국민 보호 의무를 포기하고, 주한미군과 미국 정부의 요청에 따라 기지촌 조성과 관리를 주도하였으며, 구체적으로 낙검자 강제수용소 설치 등 피해여성들을 미군 성노예로 내몰았음을 인정하는 판결이었다.


2018년 2월 8일, 항소심 재판부는 1심 판결을 인정하는 데서 나아가 ‘애국교육 실시,’ ‘위법한 절차에 따른 조직적· 폭력적 성병치료와 성병 관리,’ 등 피고인 국가가 적극적· 능동적으로 기지촌을 운영· 관리한 주체로, 원고들의 인격권과 인간의 존엄성을 침해하였음을 인정하여 원고 전원에게 손해배상 위자료를 지급할 것을 판결하였다.


그러나 소송이 시작된 지 8년이 지난 현재까지 대법원 최종판결이 나오지 않고 있다. 그동안 122명의 원고 중 일부가 사망했고, 최근 3개월 사이에도 3 명이 유명을 달리하셔서 현재 원고는 총 111명으로 줄어 들었다. 2019년 6월에는 원고들이 “지난한 소송에 마침표를 찍어 달라”는 취지로 작성한 조속한 대법원 판결 요구 탄원서가 제출하였고, 같은 취지로 기지촌여성인권연대 이름으로 2020년 11월과 2021년 4월, 2022년 6월, 세 차례에 걸쳐 대법원에 공문을 접수시키기도 했으나 현재까지 대법원은 아무런 해명없이 최종판결을 내놓지 않고 있다. 대법원이여성인권문제에 대한 판결을 지체하는 것은 사법부로부터 인권을 보호받아야 할 원고여성들에 대한 무시이며, 국민의 혈세를 받는 공무원으로서 직무유기에 해당한다.


지난 10년 간 현장단체들의 꾸준한 노력으로 2020년 4월 29일에 경기도 의회에서 ‘경기도 기지촌여성 지원 등에관한 조례’가 통과되었고, 이어서 6월 22일에는 파주시 의회에서도 유사 조례가 통과된 바 있다. 하지만 위 조례를 시행할 의무가 있는 경기도 행정담당 부서는 대법원 판결이 없다는 이유를 들어 조례에 근거하여 합법적으로출범한 ‘기지촌여성지원위원회’의 지원 관련 결정안을 무력화시키고 있다. 대법 판결이 조속히 이루어져야 할 이유이다. 그리고 19대와 20대에 이어 현재 21대 국회에서는 ‘미군위안부 문제에 대한 진상규명 및 피해자 지원 등에 관한 법률안’이 여성가족상임위에 상정되어 있지만 여야합의가 이루어지지 않아 법안심사소위도 개최되지못하고 있고, 윤석열 행정부 하에서 여가부 존폐 논쟁으로 법안의 앞날이 불투명한 상태이다. 국회 역시 대법원판결 부재를 입법 지체의 한 요인으로 꼽고 있는데, 이런 이유로도 대법원 판결은 조속히 이루어져야 한다.


우리 여성들은 국가의 존재 이유를 묻는다. 현재 원고들은 대부분 70∼80 대 고령의 나이로, 오랜 세월 미군위안부피해로 인해 신체적· 정신적· 경제적으로 매우 열악한 상태에 놓여 있다. 이들 원고들 뿐만 아니라 전국 각 지역에산재해 있는 수많은 미군위안부들이 생활고와 질병 등으로 이 시각, 생을 마감하고 있다.


‘지체된 정의’는 정의가 아니다. 지금 이 땅, 군사화되고 분단된 한반도의 현재를 살아가는 수많은 기지촌 미군위안부 생존자들은 조속한 정의가 실현되기를 바라고 있다. 지체되고 있는 대한민국 대법원 판결이 하루빨리 이루어져야 한다.

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