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Glendale wins legal battle over monument to WW II 'comfort women'

A judge said Glendale is within its rights to have a statue recognizing the 'comfort women' forced to serve the Japanese army in World War II.
A judge said Glendale is within its rights to have a statue recognizing the 'comfort women' forced to serve the Japanese army in World War II.
Melissa Wall via Flickr Creative Commons

Glendale's bronze monument to wartime sex slaves won't be moving from its perch in the city's Central Park anytime soon.

A federal judge last week dismissed a lawsuit suing the city to remove the monument honoring 'comfort women' used by Japan's military during World War II.

The statue — of a Korean girl seated next to an empty chair — is touted as the first memorial to comfort women on the West Coast. There are also monuments in New Jersey and Virginia — all built to raise awareness about the women's plight and to pressure current Japanese leadership to apologize for its military's role.

The plaintiffs in the Glendale suit –  resident Michiko Shiota Gingery and the conservative, pro-Japan group Global Alliance for Historical Truth — had argued that the city had overstepped its bounds by engaging in an international debate over the treatment of comfort women. More specifically, according to the complaint, "Glendale has taken a position at odds with the expressed position of the Japanese Government.”

A top Japanese government official acknowledged the use of comfort women in what's known as the Kono Statement of 1993, but Japan's far-right has disputed whether the women were coerced.

U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson found no merit in the plaintiffs' assertion they were being injured because they did not feel comfortable visiting the park after the monument's installation.

It's not clear whether the plaintiffs plan to appeal. The plaintiff's attorney William B. DeClercq would not comment on the case.

City Attorney Michael Garcia told KPCC that the city saw the "lawsuit as spurious so we're glad the court decided not to find for the plaintiff."

The city was assisted by attorneys from the firm of Sidley Austin working pro-bono.

The court ruling was celebrated by the Korean American Forum of California, the non-profit that worked with the city of Glendale to install the monument.

"Art speaks a thousand words," said the group's executive director Phyllis Kim. "People come and they learn about this history and it’s a very strong testament to our petition to support human rights and women’s rights."

Despite this victory, Kim said the group still has work to do: pressing for reparations for the comfort women, and an apology ratified by the national Legislature. The group does not consider earlier apologies official or sincere.

This story has been updated.