Compensation for Colonial Victims Is Not Just a Legal Problem

      January 17, 2005 22:09

      The government has declassified explosive documents relating to the 1965 Korea-Japan Basic Treaty. They show that the government at the time had originally demanded US$364 million in compensation for some 1.03 million Koreans forced into labor or military service during the Japanese occupation.

      Based on that disclosure, the bereaved families of victims have demanded compensation from the government.

      At the time of the normalization talks, the government intended to "assume the responsibility for compensating individuals after resolving all claims including individual ones on a lump sum basis. Propriety by item, criteria and methods for individual compensation will be worked out."

      But in 1975 the government closed the matter by paying a total of W2,570 million only to the relatives of 8,552 citizens who died in forced labor.

      "Since it received the claims fund after it sought compensation for 1.03 million victims, the government must compensate the remaining 1 million-plus victims," bereaved family members of the victims demand.

      The government, citing several reasons, takes the position that legal compensation is difficult to implement. To begin with, the government says, though it demanded individual compensation in the course of the negotiations, this was a negotiating strategy in its effort to win sufficient reparations from Japan.

      The government also claims that it has no legal responsibility to compensate individuals because Japan paid the fund in the name of economic cooperation, and because a formula for the use of the funds prepared at the time makes no mention of individual compensation. If victims of forced labor are compensated, the government says, there arises a problem of equitable treatment of other victims in the independence struggle. In addition, there is a practical problem: no documentary record is available in the country to identify victims of forced labor.

      But this is not a matter to be addressed from a legal point of view only. We must find a formula for compensating the victims one way or another.

      During the normalization talks, the government hurried negotiations along in a bid to secure foreign capital needed for economic development, and it used the claims fund to push ahead with large-scale economic projects like the Seoul-Busan expressway and Pohang Iron and Steel. In other words, it sacrificed the compensation of individual victims on the altar of economic development.

      Under the circumstances, that was unavoidable and for the benefit of the entire population. But now the government should endeavor to resolve the matter from a different perspective.

      Japan meanwhile holds that its responsibility for compensation ceased with the settlement of negotiated claims, and our government has left a document acknowledging this. But the Japanese government, instead of insisting that, legally speaking, its responsibility toward Asian countries has evaporated, should reflect on its moral responsibility. That is what a lasting political solution must be based on.
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