On April 21, the Seoul Central District Court dismissed the lawsuit filed by the victims of the Japanese military sexual slavery system against the Japanese government.
In 2016, ten surviving victims and ten family members of the deceased victims filed for court mediation seeking 100 million won (approximately US$91,000) each for damages incurred from the Japanese government. The plaintiffs include the late Bok-Dong Kim (1926–2019) and Yeah-Nam Kwak (1923–2019). Out of the ten victims that filed the lawsuit, only four surviving victims remain alive, including Yong-Soo Lee (b. 1928).
Contrary to what Justice Kim Jeong-gon had decided on January 8, 2021, Presiding Judge Min Seong-cheol accepted the Japanese government’s claim for “state immunity” that exempts a state from the court of another state. This ruling is a grave regression from the historic ruling made by the Seoul Central District Court on January 8. This ruling fails to grant the rights of the victims of Japanese imperialism and state-sanctioned sexual slavery. It ignores the international trend of placing human rights over national interests. Instead of declaring that state immunity does not extend to crimes against humanity, this ruling opened the door for such a dangerous possibility. This ruling also casts dark doubts about one important principle that all individuals have equal access to justice.
This ruling ignores the South Korea Constitutional Court’s ruling on August 30, 2011. The South Korea Constitutional Court ruled that neglecting the problems of “comfort women” and Korean atomic bomb victims was a state violation of the victims’ basic human rights.
In a joint statement, denouncing this legal and historical regression, a network of activists stated, “We will not be dejected by today’s ruling. We will continue our legal struggles to demand the South Korean Court to rule on truth and justice.”
After the ruling, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga made religions offerings to a Tokyo Yasukuni shrine.*
*Yasukuni Shrine commemorates those who died in service of Japan since 1869. In the late 1970s, convicted WWII Class-A war criminals were added to the shrine.
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