Korean Court Orders Japanese Firm to Compensate Forced Labor Victims

  • By Shin Su-ji, Lee Ha-won

    October 31, 2018 10:46

    The Supreme Court Tuesday ordered Nippon Steel to compensate four Korean laborers who were forced to work in Japanese factories during World War II.

    The court ordered the Japanese firm to pay W100 million each to the four Korean claimants including Lee Chun-sik (94), the sole surviving victim who was at the court when the ruling was announced (US$1=W1,140).

    The court ruled that individual Korean victims were eligible for compensation despite the Japanese government's claims that all obligations were settled by a 1965 lump sum payment that normalized ties between the two countries. The court's landmark ruling could put a chill on already soured ties between the two neighboring countries.

    Lee Chun-sik (right), a forced labor victim during World War II, sheds tears while talking to reporters at the Supreme Court in Seoul on Tuesday.

    In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that an agreement between the two governments cannot void individual compensation claims. In 2013, the Seoul High Court ordered Japan to pay compensation to the Korean individuals, drawing vehement protest from the Japanese government.

    As expected, Tokyo, who maintains that the 1965 bilateral treaty settled the issue of individuals' rights to seek compensation, immediately protested against the court's decision.

    Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the ruling was "an unbelievable judgement from the perspective of international law." Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono also summoned the Korean ambassador to Japan following the ruling to lodge a protest.

    Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono (center) protests to Korean ambassador to Japan Lee Su-hoon in Japan's Foreign Ministry in Tokyo on Tuesday. /Reuters-Yonhap

    Japanese media appeared to be concerned about the ramifications of the latest ruling. The Tokyo Shimbun daily reported that nearly 1,000 Koreans have filed relevant lawsuits. Jiji Press reported that more lawsuits could ensue since there are more than 220,000 Korean victims of wartime forced labor.

    Some 148,961 Koreans are believed to be eligible to seek compensation from Japan and about 299 Japanese companies could be held accountable, according to a survey by the Prime Minister's Office. Only around 5,000 victims are still alive, but surviving family members are also eligible to seek compensation.

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