The Lai Dai Han victims have been through atrocities during the war, and they still carry the scars of their assault until this very day. These days, many of the Lai Dai Han merely seek for an apology from the Korean government, that has yet to formally recognize or apologize for the sexual violence committed by its soldiers during the war.
By refusing to do so, the South Korean Government is preserving the injustice caused to the Vietnamese victims of rape and their children.
Moreover, South Korea’s Ministry of Defense sent a letter to some of the survivors last year, 2019, “saying it has no record of any civilian killings carried out by its military in Vietnam and there needs to be a joint investigation by both governments in tandem to check the facts, but that this is currently unachievable”.
As a result of the ongoing injustice the Lai Dai Han community faces, an organization named Justice for Lai Dai Han was founded, with its goal being to work with “policy makers, writers and artists to ensure this injustice is finally recognised, alongside [implementing their] fundraising efforts on behalf of the Lai Dai Han and their families”.
Justice for Lai Dai Han, as well as several other organizations and key opinion leaders, have been trying to promote an option for an independent investigation which should be conducted by the UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency.
As one example, Jack Straw, the international ambassador for Justice for Lai Dai Han and former UK foreign secretary, claimed that there must be “an independent investigation by the UNHCR into the rape of Vietnamese women by South Korean soldiers.”
Another example of this advocation was made by Ku Su-jeong, executive director of the Korea-Vietnam Peace Foundation, who claimed that “it is fair to say the Korean government has not made any efforts to address the issue, [and that] has neither been any investigation nor research” from their side.
While the Lai Dai Han’s request for an apology from the South Korean government remains unanswered, the Lai Dai Han community also seeks the government’s help in finding their birth parents, with some wishing to be recognized as Koreans and gain a Korean citizenship.
An untold role and a forgotten community
Many people may not have heard about The Lai Dai Han community, and some may not even know much about South Korea’s role in the Vietnam War.
While many are aware of the US’s involvement in the Vietnam war, which is often mentioned in popular culture, South Korea’s role and long participation in massacres between 1964 and 1973 is largely untold in the West. It is believed that around 314,000 South Korean soldiers were deployed to Vietnam, where they were fighting the Communists alongside the US, making South Korea the largest ally in the battlefield.
Korean military killed a total of 41,400 enemy soldiers, while the number of civilian causalities is more uncertain. While preliminary official Vietnamese sources reports that around 5,000 civilians were killed in several massacres, others reach a number as high as 9,000 civilian deaths.
Then comes the number of people, who were not killed, but hurt, enslaved or raped. Without the sexual violence and war crimes, The Lai Dai Han community would not exist today – a community consisting of children of Vietnamese women who were raped by South Korean soldiers during the Vietnam War. Currently, there are over 30,000 Lai Dai Han children of more than 800 victims which are still alive.
The children’s suffering did not end with the war but has continued to haunt them through their childhood and all the way to adulthood. Like Tran Dai Nhat, who was bullied and excluded from his local community, many children of The Lai Dai Han often face social and economic discrimination.
“Teachers hit me – saying I should go back to Korea with my father. My entire life, I have been made to feel as though I shouldn’t be [in Vietnam],” said Tran Dai Nhat.
Having poor access to both healthcare, social services and education, reports show that many of the children have ended up illiterate, without a security network and in severe poverty.
Awaiting apology and justice
Still today, more than 50 years after their mothers were raped and their communities massacred, the Lai Dai Han are left alone. Their suffering, and the sexual violence forced upon their mothers, have never been acknowledged by South Korea.
On the contrary, they seem to deny it.
In a letter to Vietnamese survivors from South Korea’s Ministry of Defense, the ministry writes that “it has no record of any civilian killings carried out by its military in Vietnam” and continues to encourage the efforts of “a joint investigation by both governments in tandem to check the facts, but that this is currently unachievable”.
Though Lai Dai Han are left without recognition and corporation from official South Korea, some have not forgotten or given up the fight for justice or recognition, first and foremost the community itself.
Tran Dai Nhat founded a campaign group, Justice for Lai Dai Han (JLDH), whose main goal is for South Korea to recognize the tens of thousands of children born as a result of rape by Korean soldiers, but also the sexual violence their mothers suffered. A call for recognition, that has been growing in the past two decades.
“By failing to recognize and apologize for the sexual violence committed by South Korean soldiers, the South Korean government is denying justice to the victims of rape and to the children born as a result of these acts,” the campaign group states.
Not getting the recognition or apology they want from South Korea, the Lai Dai Han community receives support from other parts of international society and organizations.
In 2018 Nadia Murad won the Nobel peace prize for her effort to end the use of sexual violence in conflicts and wars. Being forced into sexual slavery by the terror organization Isis at a young age, Nadia Murad and many Yazidi women of Iraq understand the brutality and destructive power of sexual violence as a weapon of war.
“The Lai Dai Han have been living in the shadows of Vietnamese society for far too long. The victims and their families deserve to be recognized as we work together to achieve justice,” she stated about JLDH’s calls for recognition.
Although official South Korea has not recognized Lai Dai Han, some Koreans do advocate for recognition and justice. Ku Su-jeong, executive director of the Korea-Vietnam Peace Foundation, criticizes South Korea for not taking responsibility, neither for the Lai Dai Han community nor investigations in their own role.
“It is fair to say the Korean government has not made any efforts to address the issue, [and that] has neither been any investigation nor research” from their side.”