Reuters Faith Ninivaggi
Victims of World War II sexual slavery lost their second lawsuit against the government of Japan on Wednesday, in a setback to efforts to hold Tokyo accountable for its wartime crimes.
The Seoul Central Court rejected a lawsuit filed by 20 plaintiffs, including victims who were forced to work in brothels on the front lines for Japanese soldiers during World War II, and the court cited sovereign immunity, a legal pillar that protects states from civil litigation in foreign courts.
The court also noted an agreement concluded in 2015 between Seoul and Tokyo to resolve the dispute. Despite some procedural problems, the agreement was reached after hearing the opinions of the victims, who are called the “comfort women”, some of whom receive money from an institution created under this deal.
But victims and activists described the agreement as inappropriate, saying it lacked a sincere apology from Tokyo, and it did not reflect the voices of women victims in the negotiation process.
The court said, “The victims faced great suffering, and the government efforts and results were apparently insufficient to help them recover from what they suffered,” adding that this issue must be resolved through “diplomatic” efforts.
The plaintiffs filed the lawsuit in December of 2016, but legal proceedings were delayed because Tokyo refused to respond.
In January, a local court ruled that Japan should provide 100 million won ($ 91,300) in financial compensation to each of the first group of 12 victims, in the first legal victory for the Korean victims.
At the time, the court refused to drop the case due to sovereign immunity, saying this rule should not be applied to “systematic crimes against humanity” and war crimes.
Tokyo adheres to its position that it is not bound by the Korean court’s ruling, saying that the court does not have jurisdiction over Japan.
The number of still alive victims registered with the Korean government stands at 15, most of them in the 1980s and 1990s. Historians believe that the number of victims was about 200,000, most of them Koreans.