Japan was open to compensating Korean forced laborers despite a comprehensive 1965 deal in which Korea signed away claims in return for a one-off compensation package, it has emerged.
When the Korea-Japan Normalization Treaty was signed settling all compensation claims over atrocities by the Japanese during World War II, the two governments also prepared a document guaranteeing the pursuit of individual victims' rights.
The internal Japanese document written in the months leading up to the signing of the 1965 agreement stipulates that "compensation claims raised by a state take on the form of an entire nation having suffered abuses of rights through violations committed against its citizens, and are grievances raised by one country against another in the arena of international law. As a result, they do not negate the rights of individuals to raise compensation claims according to the laws of the other country." Two other documents containing similar words were also found.
These documents contradict the Japanese claim that by sealing the 1965 treaty, Korea signed away individual rights to compensation as well.
They are part of a wider number of documents unveiled in 2008 after a freedom-of-information lawsuit and were submitted to a Japanese court in a compensation suit filed against a Japanese company by 23 Koreans who were forced into labor by the Japanese war machine during World War II.
However, the Nagoya High Court turned down the appeal last week saying while it acknowledges that the plaintiffs were forced into hard labor, "there is no longer any obligation for compensation since individual claims have all been settled according to the 1965 treaty."
"These documents will not change the Japanese government's stance or influence court decisions," said Choi Bong-tae, a lawyer representing Korean victims. "But they will serve as valuable resources in demanding the Japanese government and businesses make voluntary compensation."