April 09, 2019 12:28
Some 537 Korean victims have joined a class-action suit against Japanese companies that forced them to labor for them in World War II, an advocacy group in Daegu said Monday.
The group, which also supports victims of wartime sexual slavery, said it will file the suit in Gwangju at the end of this month.
A study by the Prime Minister's Office has tallied the number of forced labor victims at around 140,000, which means more lawsuits can be expected.
The Japanese government is furious that Korean courts have recognized the claims for victims in a couple of cases and authorized the seizure of Japanese companies' assets here.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday once again called for the Korean government to take proper action when he was visited by outgoing Korean Ambassador Lee Su-hoon. Tokyo insists all compensation claims were settled by a lump sum payment in 1965.
Tokyo has also threatened retaliatory measures like punitive tariffs on Korean exports should the former forced laborers go ahead and sell the companies' assets. Seoul has not responded to Tokyo's calls for talks saying it respects the courts' decisions.
"We are preparing to deal with all possible measures taken by Japan," a Foreign Ministry official said.
The problem looks increasingly intractable since Abe needs to shore up his rightwing support base and Japan seems incapable of coming to terms with its war crimes, while Korean anger has become highly ritualized.
Lee Won-deog at Kookmin University said, "It appears as if the government is ignoring the problem, but it will become increasingly difficult to look the other way once the scale of the lawsuits grows and Japan takes concrete retaliatory steps."
Lee warned the case may even be taken to the International Court of Justice. "We are not in a disadvantageous position," he added. "We could gain valuable time by taking the case to the ICJ and seek to normalize ties with Japan once the political climate changes."
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