Court Rules Wartime Sex Slaves Cannot Sue Japan

  • By Yang Eun-kyoung, Kwon Soon-wan

    April 22, 2021 10:16

    A Korean court ruled Wednesday that women forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese imperial army cannot seek compensation from the Japanese government through the Korean legal system.

    The ruling came three months after the same court recognized the right of another group of sex slaves and their families to sue the island country for compensation here.

    The Seoul Central District Court dismissed a case brought in 2016 by 20 plaintiffs, including former sex slaves Kwak Yae-nam, Kim Bok-dong, who have since died, and Lee Yong-soo and the families of others.

    "According to sovereign immunity under international law, seeking compensation for the actions of the Japanese state cannot be allowed," it ruled.

    The doctrine of sovereign immunity stipulates that a sovereign state cannot commit a legal wrong under the laws of another country and is therefore immune from civil or criminal prosecution.

    Judge Min Seong-cheol said, "Forcing the victims to engage in sexual relations at the time was part of the exercise of Japanese government authority and constituted a sovereign act."

    "Failing to recognize Japan's sovereign immunity goes against precedent set by the Supreme Court as well as the general trend in the international community," he added.

    Lee Yong-soo talks to reporters after a trial at the Seoul Central District Court on Wednesday.

    In January, the same court ruled in favor of former sex slave, Bae Chun-hee, and 11 other victims, saying that sovereign immunity "does not apply to crimes against humanity." The ruling stands because the Japanese government did not respond. But the latest ruling is expected to go to the Supreme Court since the plaintiffs are likely to appeal.

    One legal expert said, "The Supreme Court has recognized the responsibility of Japanese businesses for wartime forced labor, but this case is different because it involves the Japanese state."

    Lee, the former sex slave, vowed to take the case to the International Court of Justice, but individuals cannot bring cases to the ICJ, only countries.

    The Foreign Ministry said, "The government will strive to restore the honor and respect of the victims. Japan must now act in accordance with its expressed intention to take responsibility and apologize."

    The Japanese government said the latest ruling was "appropriate."

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