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Appeals Court Rules in Favor of Glendale’s ‘Comfort Women’ Statue

A comfort women monument was erected in Glendale’s Central Park in 2013. J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo

A comfort women monument was erected in Glendale’s Central Park in 2013. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

Rafu Staff Report

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit on Aug. 4 upheld a lower court’s ruling against a lawsuit seeking removal of the “comfort women” monument in Glendale’s Central Park.

The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on June 7 sided with the City of Glendale against the plaintiffs’ assertion that the monument exceeded the city’s authority and was damaging to U.S.-Japan relations.

The rejection of the appeal is a victory for the Korean American Forum of California (KAFC) and other organizations that have sought the establishment of such monuments in California cities, including San Francisco.

The monument has been opposed by the Global Alliance for Historical Truth (GAHT), whose goal is to “have historical understanding based on the correct facts” and “to protect the honor of Japan.”

The lawsuit stems from the Glendale City Council’s approval in July 2013 of a “peace monument” dedicated to “more than 200,000 Asian and Dutch women who were removed from their homes in Korea, China, Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, East Timor and Indonesia to be coerced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Armed Forces of Japan between 1932 and 1945.”

The inscription further notes that Congress passed in 2007 a resolution “urging the Japanese government to accept historical responsibility for these crimes” and concludes, “It is our sincere hope that these unconscionable violations of human rights shall never recur.”

The memorial consists of a 1,100-pound bronze statue of a young girl in Korean dress sitting next to an empty chair with a bird perched on her shoulder.

The lawsuit was filed against the City of Glendale by GAHT-US, Glendale resident Michiko Shiota Gingery, who has since died, and Los Angeles resident Koichi Mera. According to the suit, Mera “disagrees with and is offended by the position espoused by Glendale through the monument” and “would like to use Glendale’s Central Park and its Adult Recreation Center” but now “avoids doing so.” Gingery had made a similar claim.

The plaintiffs further argued that Glendale “has taken a position in the contentious and politically sensitive international debate concerning the proper historical treatment of the former comfort women,” thereby “disrupting the federal government’s policy of non-intervention and encouragement of peaceful resolution of the dispute between Japan and Korea.” The goal of the lawsuit was to have the monument declared unconstitutional and removed from the park.

While affirming that the plaintiffs had standing to file suit because of their “inability to unreservedly use” the park and saying that “the district court erred in concluding otherwise,” the 9th Circuit panel agreed with the lower court that “Glendale’s installation of the monument concerned an area of traditional state responsibility and did not intrude on the federal government’s foreign affairs power.”

The summary continued, “The panel held that the Supremacy Clause does not pre-empt a local government’s expression, through a public monument, of a particular viewpoint on a matter related to foreign affairs.”

Circuit Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote that unlike legislation involving restitution from foreign governments for past wrongs, “Glendale’s establishment of a public monument to advocate against ‘violations of human rights’ is well within the traditional responsibilities of state and local governments …

“For example, local governments have established memorials for victims of the Holocaust and the Armenian genocide, and leaders of local governments have publicly taken positions on matters of foreign affairs, from South African apartheid in the 1980s to the recent actions of Boko Haram … Glendale has joined a long list of other American cities that have likewise used public monuments to express their views on events that occurred beyond our borders.”

Examples cited in the ruling include a monument to victims of the 1915 Armenian genocide erected at Bicknell Park in Montebello in 1965.

While the plaintiffs said that the Glendale monument “threatens to negatively affect U.S. foreign relations with Japan” and that various Japanese officials have expressed disapproval of the monument, Wardlaw said, “Plaintiffs have not further alleged that this disapproval has in any way affected relations between the United States and Japan.

“In addition, plaintiffs do not allege that the federal government has expressed any view on the monument — much less complained of interference with its diplomatic agenda.”

Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt and Senior District Judge Edward Korman concurred.

“Victory of Historical Justice”

Phyllis Kim, executive director of KAFC, issued the following response to the ruling: “This is a victory of the historical justice, a victory of over two decades of the struggle of the Grandmas (the survivors), and the victory of all of us who have been fighting against the [Prime Minister Shinzo] Abe administration that has set a $500 million budget to erase this history.

“We would like to recognize and thank the awesome members at the City Council of Glendale that stood with the victims and the historical truth from the very beginning, without being swayed by various (and enormous!!) pressure from the Abe administration and the ultra-right-wing forces from Japan …

“We thank greatly the wonderful team of lawyers from the City of Glendale and Sidley Austin LLP, for providing a pro bono representation for the City of Glendale.

“We also thank the dedication and tireless work by Paul Hoffman and Catherine Sweetser, who filed amicus brief on behalf of Korean American Forum of California, as well as Barry Fisher, who filed amicus brief on behalf of Global Alliance for Preserving the History of WWII in Asia.

“And thank you all of you who have stood by Glendale, provided support for the Halmonis (the surviving Grandmas) and our work. Without you, we wouldn’t have been able to do any of our work.

“The message is clear: it is correct and worthy to remember the victims of Japanese military sexual slavery by way of resolutions, memorials and other visible means at various U.S. governmental levels.

“We call on the Japanese government to finally accept its state responsibility for this egregious crime against humanity and work together with the rest of the world to remember and prevent such crimes in the future.

“We call on the Japanese government to stop spending exorbitant amounts of money in denying, whitewashing and erasing the history; rather, we urge them to spend it to remember and educate its own people and the people of the world of what they did to the hundreds of thousands of women during its military expansion in Asia Pacific, by erecting its own memorials and building museums so that our future generation will learn from this mistake.”

Glendale Mayor Paula Devine told The Glendale News-Press that she has met with surviving comfort women when they visited Glendale and shared their stories. “What they went through as young girls, just kids, they still bear that pain. No one deserves that kind of treatment. It’s very important to raise awareness so something like that never happens again.”

“Non-factual History”

GAHT released the following statement: “GAHT is in mind to appeal to a higher court against this decision. It was made of unilateral guess that the Japanese military had forced Korean women to slavery based only on two amicus curiae submitted by outside organizations backing the City of Glendale, the defendant. We were ready to submit a counter-amicus curiae, and our readiness was evident in the hearing of this June. Major points of our amicus curie were:

“1. Comfort women were not sex slaves or their lives were not slavery.

“2. The resolution of the House of Representatives does not have any legislative power in this comfort women issue, because it was not a legislation. From factual findings are concerned, the United States government investigated on an extensive scale the issue of comfort women, whether the women were enslaved and/or abducted, by making the acts and by forming the project team for its investigation called IWG (Interagency Working Group), conducted war crime investigation from 1998 to 2007 in accordance with the act proposed, examined and passed by the Congress and signed (approved) by the then-President Bill Clinton on Oct. 8, 1998.

“The truth of the matter was that the IWG could not find a document related to such human right infringement by the Imperial Japanese Military, and the Global Alliance for Preserving the History of WWII in Asia (hereinafter called ‘GAPH’) undoubtedly knows this fact, but GAPH neglects it in his amicus curiae.

“Therefore, the amicus curiae are not just or balanced, and shall not be referred to.

“Relating to the IWG, the facts are that GAPH had sought evidences for an atrocity of Imperial Japanese Government, and could not get at the time of the year 2007. Then the main citation of GAPH’s opinions before 2007 should automatically become null, and GAPH found a new evidence after 2007? The answer to the two questions is no! The old interpretations such as sex-slaved comfort women, 200,000 women hunting, etc. were refuted by new evidences and interpretations completely.

“Recently the center core of pro-sex-slaved comfort women theory was also rebutted in an academic dispute. Those who, represented by GAPH, insist on sex-slaved comfort women theory become ‘old bigoted guards’ of non-factual history.

“The court decision admits that the issue is in dispute between Japan and Korea, but as mentioned above the decision took in only the opinions of the defendant.

“From the viewpoint of justice, the decision is out of balance, and cannot be accepted by those who seek legal justice.”

The plaintiffs were represented by the Law Offices of Ronald S. Barak in Pacific Palisades.

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