Supreme Court Finds for More Forced Labor Victims

  • By Ahn Jun-yong, Choi Eun-kyung

    November 30, 2018 12:52

    The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Japanese companies must compensate Koreans who were forced to labor for them during World War II.

    It was the second ruling by the highest court this year in favor of victims of forced labor under the Japanese occupation. The court held that a 1965 treaty with Tokyo waiving all claims in return for a lump sum payment cannot void the rights of individual Koreans to file for compensation.

    The court on Thursday found in favor of Yang Keum-deok (87) and five family members of Korean women who were forced to labor by imperial Japan during World War II against Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. Earlier, the court found for six other victims in their compensatory lawsuit against Mitsubishi.

    The Japanese company must pay W100-150 million to each female victim and W80 million to each male victim (US$1=W1,121). The Seoul Central District Court also ruled in favor of three surviving family members of Kim Kong-su, who was forced into labor by Nippon Steel during World War II. Nippon Steel owes Kim's family W100 million. 

    Forced labor victims react in front of the Supreme Court in Seoul on Thursday.

    The Japanese government protested against the rulings. Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono expressed "serious regret" and said the court rulings "directly counter" the 1965 treaty and "overturn the fundamental basis" of the rule of law.

    Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Tokyo will take the case to international courts. But Foreign Ministry spokesman Noh Kyu-duk said, "The Japanese government's excessive reaction to the decisions of our courts is regrettable and we urge restraint."

    The Japanese government summoned Korean Ambassador Lee Su-hoon to lodge a protest, but the Foreign Ministry here also summoned Japanese Ambassador Yasumasa Nagamine. To speed up the process of compensation, the government is considering asking Korean companies that benefitted from the 1965 payment to pitch in.

    "We are considering setting up a third-party fund that involves both Korean and Japanese businesses to support the victims," a government source said. "By having Korean companies that benefited from the bilateral treaty join the fund, we think it could reduce protests by Japan and speed up compensation."

    Among Korean beneficiaries are POSCO, KT and KORAIL. Lee Won-duk at Kookmin University said, "There are limits to the role the government here can play, so the involvement of Korean businesses could help solve the problem." But others worry that this could be seen as the government passing the buck.

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