SEOUL - The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights made an emotional plea Thursday for victims of Japan's wartime sex slavery to have their suffering recognised, and urged the country's prime minister to meet with the former "comfort women".
About 200,000 women, mainly from Korea but also from China, Indonesia and other Asian nations, were forced into sexual slavery by Japan during World War II.
South Korea says Japan has not fully accepted its guilt for its wartime record, and Tokyo's lack of apology continues to strain bilateral relations.
"I find it terribly sad that, despite some significant steps taken by Japan over the years, the victims of this terrible crime do not feel their suffering has been adequately and universally recognised," he said.
Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe must sit down with the women so they have a chance to "communicate their feelings", he said, adding that only the victims can decide "whether enough has been done".
"Many were rejected by their families, some committed suicide. Others were rendered sterile and most never married or had children", Hussein said in emotional comments, describing the victims as "submerged in shame".
On Wednesday the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein met three former "comfort women" and pledged to continue advocating on their behalf.
Japan insists the issue of "comfort women" was settled in the 1965 bilateral agreement that restored diplomatic ties between Tokyo and Seoul.
But Abe and South Korean President Park Geum-Hye have never held formal bilateral talks, and Park insists that there can be no meeting until Japan makes amends for its wartime abuses.
Hussein also hailed the opening of a new UN mission in Seoul to monitor North Korea's human rights record, saying he hoped to see "a major improvement".
Pyongyang reacted furiously to the office, opened Tuesday, warning of "merciless punishment" against South Korea and its supporters.