LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Vietnamese villager Tran Thi Ngai was alone in her home when a South Korean soldier forced his way in and raped the then-24-year-old midwife during the Vietnam War.
“I tried to resist but he took my hand, grabbed me inside the room and closed the door and raped me again and again,” said Tran.
“He raped when in full uniform and a gun on his body. I was so terrified of him,” she said through a translator.
Now nearly in her 80s, the softly-spoken Tran said she has yet to receive any formal acknowledgement of what happened to her in Phu Yen province in central Vietnam when two South Korean soldiers sexually abused her for years.
The rape of women in past and present conflicts has increasingly come into the spotlight with high-profile women like Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie and human rights lawyer Amal Clooney working to attain justice for rape victims.
Yazidi activist Nadia Murad, one of about 7,000 women held as sex slaves by Islamic State militants, won last year’s Nobel Peace Prize along with Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war.
Speaking at a London event on Wednesday held to highlight the plight of Vietnamese women like Tran, Murad said more needed to be done to bring perpertrators of sexual violence to justice.
“As these criminals enjoy more rights, freedom and life than the victims themselves, how can we restore dignity to the victims if everyone turns a blind eye to the prosecution of perpetrators and allow them to enjoy impunity?” Murad said through a translator.
“I call upon the international community to hold its responsibilities to protect women from sexual violence in conflict zones,” she added.
Between 1964 and 1973, about 320,000 South Korean soldiers were deployed to fight alongside U.S. troops in Vietnam, according to campaign group Justice for Lai Dai Han.
Lai Dai Han is a derogatory term used to describe Vietnamese children with South Korean fathers.
Thousands of girls and women were raped by South Korean troops, said the campaign group which hosted the event late Wednesday in Britain’s parliament to call for greater awareness and recognition of the historic abuses.
Not only was Tran imprisoned, left homeless and accused of “sleeping with the enemy”, she had three children born of rape.
In recent years, South Koreans have in similar fashion demanded an apology from Japan for its historical use of “comfort women” - a wartime euphemism for the women, many from Korea, who were forced into prostitution and sexually abused at Japanese military brothels before and during World War Two.
Japan says the claims have been settled by past agreements and apologies, and that the continued controversy threatens relations between the two countries.
There has been no such settlement between South Korea and Vietnam.
Former British foreign secretary Jack Straw, the ambassador for Justice for Lai Dai Han, said there is now more awareness of the treatment of women during war, especially because of the #MeToo movement which has highlighted sexual abuse worldwide.
“All of us understand how difficult it is for a government of any state to acknowledge and deal with historic wrongs that are skeletons in the closet. But the attitude in the world has changed dramatically in the last 10 years,” Straw said.
“We don’t know where the campaign will go or whether it will be successful. We do know for sure that if we don’t do anything, nothing will happen,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls, Editing by Jason Fields; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and slavery, property rights, social innovation, resilience and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories