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Group opens discrimination case over Sydney "comfort women" statue

A Japanese-Australian community group on Wednesday launched a
discrimination case against a Sydney church that displays a so-called
"comfort women" statue on its grounds, erected by the city's Korean
community.

The Australia-Japan Community Network lodged an official
complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission, claiming by
displaying the statue of a small girl symbolizing comfort women,
the Ashfield Uniting Church is in breach of the Racial Discrimination Act.

A statement released by the AJCN President Tetsuhide Yamaoka,
said, "We have a numerous number of reasons to believe this statue
has been promoted as a political tool causing unnecessary animosity
and division to local communities."

"These kind of statues have been erected all over the world and
demonstrations taking place beside the statues are clearly political,
racial and often violent. This is naturally a huge intimidation to
the Japanese nationals."

Ashfield Uniting Church Rev. Bill Crews said he finds the case
"outrageous," telling the Australian Broadcasting Corp. the Japanese
community group can "bring it on."

The 1.5-meter statue of a barefoot girl in traditional Korean
dress, seated on a chair with an empty one beside her, is "not
against the Japanese people, it's for the women who suffered in war,"
Crews said.

"To find that people are saddened by it really saddens me
because it's more about hope, it's more about saying, 'let's build a
better world where things like this don't happen and never happen
again'."

The statue, similar to one installed in front of Japan's embassy
in Seoul in 2011, was erected at the church "in memory of the history
of suffering endured by the young girls and women known as 'Comfort
Women' who were forced into sexual slavery by the military of the
government of imperial Japan," according to plaques inscribed in
different languages.

The AJCN says that if the statue is actually to commemorate
war-affected women generally, as Crews suggested, it is unfair that
the plaques are "specifically blaming only Japan."

"This is clearly a form of racial discrimination by singling out
the Japanese race," it said.

Australia's Racial Discrimination Act, and particularly the
section (18C) the AJCN is using to make this complaint, has been the
source of controversy in the country recently as some, particularly
on the conservative side of politics, have argued it puts undue curbs
on free speech. A number of prominent parliamentarians and
commentators have called for the section to be repealed.

The act states that it is illegal to "offend, insult, humiliate
or intimidate" someone on the basis of their "race, color, or
national or ethnic origin."

The AJCN case comes a year after Japan struck a deal with South
Korea, where many of the women forced into sexual servitude came
from, to settle the comfort women issue "finally and irreversibly."

Under the accord, South Korea set up a foundation to care for
the aging women and their families, and Japan disbursed 1 billion yen
($9.7 million) for this purpose.

The deal was widely seen as a milestone in Tokyo-Seoul ties
marred by differing perceptions of wartime issues, though some
victims and their supporters have said it does not properly address
the issue.

Meanwhile, how to deal with the statue set up in front of the
Japanese Embassy in Seoul remains a sticking point between Japan and
South Korea. Japan has been urging South Korea to remove it. (Dec. 14)