Seoul court dismisses ‘comfort women’ case against Japan, citing Tokyo’s sovereign immunity.
A South Korean court has rejected a claim by victims of South Korean sex slavery and their relatives from the Japanese government for compensation for their wartime suffering.
Activists representing victims of sexual slavery condemned Wednesday’s ruling and said the Seoul Central District Court ignored their struggles to restore women’s honor and dignity.
The court ruled that the Japanese government should be exempt from civil jurisdiction under principles of international law, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.
In January, the same court called on the Japanese government to give 100 million South Korean won ($89,000) each to a separate group of 12 women who sued in 2013 for their wartime suffering as sex slaves, which was the first such decision in the country. .
Japanese officials had angrily rejected January’s decision, accusing South Korea of making “illegal” demands and undermining international law and bilateral relations.
Japan insists that all wartime compensation issues were settled under a 1965 treaty that normalized relations with South Korea and that the two countries agreed to end “irreversibly to the dispute in a 2015 agreement. But after taking office in 2017, South Korean President Moon Jae-in effectively reversed the 2015 settlement, in which Japan issued a formal apology and provided 1 billion yen ($9.6 million) to a fund to help victims of sexual slavery.
Reminders of Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule on the Korean peninsula are controversial on both sides, with many surviving ‘comfort women’ – a Japanese euphemism for victims of sexual abuse – demanding an official apology and compensation from Tokyo .
Some historians estimate that up to 200,000 Korean girls and women were forced to provide sex to Japanese troops during the colonial era, sometimes under the guise of employment or to pay off a relative’s debt.
About 240 South Korean women have registered with the government as victims of wartime sexual slavery by the Japanese military – of whom only 15 are still alive.
Amnesty International called Wednesday’s decision a “great disappointment that does no justice” to survivors and their families.
“This decision runs counter to a ruling by the same court in January, which required Japan to take legal responsibility for its systematic sexual slavery which constituted crimes against humanity and war crimes,” said said Arnold Fang, East Asia researcher at Amnesty.
“What was a historic victory for survivors after too long a wait is again in question.”
South Korea and Japan, two staunch US allies, are key trading partners and share other common interests, including countering North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threats.
But relations have soured as historic feuds have erupted in recent years, affecting trade and security deals, particularly after South Korea’s Supreme Court in 2018 ordered two Japanese companies to compensate some forced laborers. in times of war.
The former workers sought to seize and sell some of the Japanese companies’ assets in South Korea as compensation, which Tokyo said would lead to a “serious situation”.