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Korean A-Bomb Survivors of Hiroshima Speak Out at the United Nations

Peace and Planet March and Festival in NYC, April  26th, 2015  (photo KPI)

Peace and Planet March and Festival in NYC, April 26th, 2015 (photo KPI)

KPI | May 9, 2015

The 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is meeting at the United Nations in New York from April 27 to May 22, 2015. The conference in which NPT member states “review the progress of the Treaty” towards achieving nonproliferation is hosted every five years by the United Nations. This year’s conference coincides with the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japanese rule and the onset of its cold war division at the 38th parallel.

Civil society groups from Korea and Japan also visited New York to speak at the NPT review conference and to participate in the Peace and Planet Conference, April 24- 25, a parallel conference of non-governmental organizations convened in part to call upon the NPT member states to immediately establish a timetable to ban all nuclear weapons. A new voice among those heard at both conferences was that of Korean survivors of the Hiroshima atomic bombings.

When the bombs fell, Korea was a colony of Japan and millions had been forcibly taken from Korea to work in Japan’s military factories and mines, and 200,000 Korean women coerced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army. One in seven casualties from the bombings were Koreans and of those who survived, few received help from Japan, the United States or South Korea as they struggled with radiation poisoning, and continue to battle second and third generation radiation related illnesses. Even the memorial to the Koreans who perished, built in 1970 by Korean residents of Hiroshima, was not allowed to be situated within the Hiroshima Peace Park until 1999, after considerable community pressure.

For the first time, Korean survivors of the Hiroshima atomic bomb blast spoke publicly in the U.S. about their continued suffering, demanding justice and the medical help for which they have been waiting 70 years. The speakers came from Hapcheon, South Korea, known as the “Hiroshima of Korea.” Most of the Korean A-Bomb victims originated from Hapcheon and returned there after World War II. The following are excerpts from the testimony of two of the representatives of the Hapcheon Chapter of Korean Atomic Victims’ Association, given at the civil society session of the NPT review conference and the Peace and Planet Conference.

Sim Jin-Tae

My name is Sim Jin Tae, I am an Atomic Bomb survivor from South Korea. I was born in Hiroshima in 1943.  I was there when the atomic bomb was dropped, and as a result, I became exposed to radiation. At the time, 100,000 out of the total 740,000 victims were Koreans. The majority of the Korean A-bomb victims were those who had been forcibly conscripted by colonial Japan.

My father too had been conscripted as a laborer at a military base in Hiroshima. Forty three thousand Korean survivors of the atomic bomb returned to South Korea after August 15, 1945. But after living in abject poverty and facing social discrimination, many died from the aftereffects of the bomb without any medical care.

Currently, there are only 2650 survivors registered in the South Korean Atomic Bomb victims’ Association. But the Japanese government has ignored the Korean A-bomb survivors. For decades, we each had to sue the Japanese government as individuals.

While the Japanese government covers the full cost of medical treatment for Japanese survivors, it discriminates against Korean survivors by limiting their medical coverage.

Japan needs to stop distorting the truth about its history of war and colonial conquest, and needs to apologize to the victims, as well as compensate the victims.

In the town of Hapcheon, where I currently reside, there are approximately 660 atomic bomb survivors. Hapcheon is often referred to as Hiroshima of South Korea.

In Hiroshima’s Peace Park, there is not any information about why atomic bomb victims had to be bombed. In Hapcheon, we seek to build a true Global Peace Park that can reveal the truth about the bombings.

We want to build a peace park that questions the U.S.’s responsibility for using nuclear weapons and shows the world why we must prohibit the use of any nuclear weapon.

Over the course of the past few weeks, we’ve been hearing about the bombs that dropped 70 years ago and the tragic stories of those who suffered as a result of the bombings. However, there have not been concrete actions taken to figure out what exactly atomic bomb victims can do to achieve justice.

We’ve already said all we could about our experiences. We have testified enough. Now it is time for us to act.

We, the Korean atomic bomb survivors have come together with second and third generation descendants to lead a movement that will establish a special law for Korean atomic bomb survivors.

The Japanese government identifies itself to be the only nation in the world to have been a victim to nuclear weapons. However, people from 33 different nations who were living in Japan also fell victim to the atomic bombs at the time.

To all of the victims of nuclear weapons (living in the 33 countries), let us organize ourselves and create a solidarity network. Even if just the atomic bomb victims in China, Taiwan, the U.S., and South Korea came together, that would strengthen this struggle.

  1. Atomic bomb victims in those nations, let us come together to demand accountability from the U.S. for its use of nuclear weapons.

  2. Peace-loving global citizens and A-bomb victims, let us stand together and renounce the non-apologetic U.S. government for its use of nuclear weapons, and the non-apologetic Japanese government for its aggressive wars and colonial occupation.

A few days ago, we along with South Korean delegates of SPARK (Solidarity for Peace and Reunification of Korea) and PSPD (People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy) [who came to participate in the NPT Conference] met with the U.S. State Department. As the nation-state responsible for the use of atomic bombs, the U.S. State Department should determine who exactly will be accountable to the Korean victims.

During the meeting with the representatives of the State Department, our delegation presented reports and data about the situation of Korean A-bomb victims, and made demands for the U.S. government to conduct a thorough investigation on the humanitarian impact of the atomic bombings (on Hiroshima and Nagasaki). After meeting with us, the U.S. State Department expressed their lack of familiarity on the experiences of Korean A-bomb victims.

Is this what a country that used the first nuclear weapons should be saying? How can representatives of the Obama Administration, which has made claims to pushing for a nuclear-free world, say something like this? How can they not know anything about the Korean victims who have suffered from the U.S.’s atomic bombs?

We realized from this meeting that, in order for us to put pressure on the U.S. government to do anything, we require more support and greater solidarity.

I spoke at the United Nations headquarters last Friday on the issue of Korean A-bomb victims. Actually, that was the first time in history that such a testimony from a Korean A-bomb survivor has ever been presented to the UN. We have also requested to meet with various representatives of the UN, but so far, we have yet to receive any response.

All this lack of response and respect for Korean A-bomb victims is indicative of the fact that the UN is failing to serve its true purpose and fulfill its duty. So, we want to ask you for your help on how we, the victims of nuclear devastation, together with civil society groups, can move forward with this issue. How we can get this issue of supporting A-bomb victims resolved at a United Nations General Assembly.

Recognize, Apologize, Investigate, and Compensate for A-bomb Damage Suffered by the Korean Victims!

Kim Bong-dae

My name is Kim Bong-dae. I am here on behalf of my wife and son. I am here seeking solidarity as we continue our struggle for the rights of second generation descendants of A-bomb victims and fight to establish a Special Law that can support them, as well as protect their well-being.

At age 6, my wife survived the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. She has suffered her entire life from skin disease, a tumor in her lower back, and osteoporosis.

My son Kim Hyeong-ryul died in 2005 of a rare terminal illness called congenital immunoglobulin deficiency. It was because of hereditary transmission of radiation poisoning from the A-bomb damage.

When he learned that he contracted his illness through hereditary transmission of radiation poisoning from his mother’s exposure to the atomic bomb damage, my son began to raise the issue around second generation descendants of A-bomb victims.

The South Korean government, however, has turned its back on the Korean A-bomb survivors. The government has demonstrated dereliction of duty when it comes (especially) to second generation descendants of A-bomb victims.

My son organized second generation descendants and mobilized them to struggle for a special law to be enacted for the descendants of atomic bomb victims suffering hereditary transmission of diseases linked to radiation exposure. He even went to Japan to attend public hearings on the matter. Since my son started this movement 10 years ago, the South Korean government has put the enactment of the special law on hold.

However, the U.S., Japanese, and South Korean governments refuse to recognize the realities of hereditary transmission of the A-bomb damage.

Even Japanese second generation victims have yet be recognized by their government.

Following the atomic bombings, the U.S. established the Radiation Effects Research Foundation in Japan. And while it has been monitoring the health of second generation descendants of A-bomb victims, the research foundation claimed in 2007 that it could not find clear evidence of the connection between the atomic bomb damage and the illnesses contracted by second generation descendants.

The Radiation Effects Research Foundation poses that there needs to be more research focused on looking at the hereditary/genetic effects of radiation exposure.

One researcher from the Foundation, however, personally admitted to the existence of the links between the A-bomb damages and the heredity of radiation poisoning.

The Japanese and U.S. governments, however, have yet to recognize the atomic bombings’ radiation effects on heredity, because such a non-admission continues to allow them to avoid taking any responsibility for causing the nuclear devastation. However,

In 2013, South Gyeongsang Province in South Korea investigated 1125 people, who were either first, second or third generation A-bomb victims and their descendants. In all, 20.2% of descendants of survivors were found to have congenital deficiencies or hereditary diseases.

My son Kim Hyeong-ryul and the 1300 second-generation descendants who suffer transmittable diseases as a consequence of the A-bomb were and still are living proof that the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons is permanent and is passed on through generations.

The descendants of the A-bomb survivors had no choice but to be born into this world as hereditary A-bomb victims due to Japan’s war of aggression and the U.S.’ anti-humanitarian use of nuclear weapons.

These descendants of Korean A-bomb survivors are the most extreme examples of victims of war crimes by the U.S. and Japan.

The U.S., Japanese, and South Korean governments must recognize the transmission of A-bomb damage to second and third generation descendants.

To recognize their crimes and apologize would be the least of their duties as the responsible parties of the nuclear devastation.

Despite predictions that the bombs would cause enormous damage, death, and injury, the United States chose to drop the first atomic bombs.

Therefore, the United States must take responsibility for its crime against the hundreds of thousands of A-bomb victims from 33 different nations, including Korea.

The U.S. has yet to even apologize for its crimes against humanity, let alone accept responsibility, after 70 years. The banning of nuclear weapons would not even be assertive enough…

  1. We demand an honest and sincere apology from the U.S. government.

  2. The South Korean government must exact from Japan compensation for A-bomb victims, a condition which was excluded from the treaty that normalized relations between Japan and South Korea.

In this 70th year since the atomic bombings, we must come together – along with civil society groups – to make sure that the enactment of the special law for A-bomb victims and their descendants comes into fruition.

We ask that you please help us to achieve this. Humankind must be made aware of the horrors suffered by A-bomb survivors in Korea and around the world. The United Nations, charged with guarding peace and human rights for all humankind, should take leadership and actively work to ban and eliminate all nuclear weapons.


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