Japan counters S. Korean criticism at U.N. over WWII sex slavery

Japan's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva on Thursday brushed aside South Korea's criticism over Tokyo's move to examine the testimonies of former Korean sex slaves who were forced to work at Japanese military brothels during World War II.

"The government has never spoken of reviewing the Kono statement," Takashi Okada said at the U.N. Human Rights Council, referring to Japan's official apology in 1993 over wartime sex slavery, named after then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono.

"Since then the position of the government of Japan has not changed at all," Okada said.

Tokyo says compensation for the wartime sex slaves, known euphemistically in Japan as "comfort women," has been already settled under a 1965 accord between Japan and South Korea.

U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Sung Kim said in Seoul earlier in the day that the sexual enslavement was "a grave human rights violation."

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se also criticized Japan on Wednesday at the U.N. panel, saying in reference to the Japanese government's re-examination, "This is an added insult to the honor and dignity of the victims."

Based on the testimonies, Tokyo issued an apology over the matter in 1993. The move to screen the testimonies came after a former senior Japanese official told parliament last month that the government at the time did not verify the victims' remarks.

Yoshihide Suga, Japan's top government spokesman, told a press briefing in Tokyo on Thursday that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe does not make light of the fact that Japanese actions caused immeasurable pain to the Korean women, as recognized by previous governments.

Suga said that Japan set up a government-linked fund in 1995 to pay atonement money to each victim. "We have gone through the issue while consulting with the South Korean government," Suga said. "We will explain our position with patience."