Forced Labor Victims' Claim Against Japanese Firms Dismissed

  • By Yang Eun-kyoung

    June 08, 2021 09:53

    A Korean court has rejected a lawsuit filed by 85 victims of wartime forced labor and their families against Japanese firms.

    The Seoul Central District Court on Monday threw out their suit against 16 Japanese companies such as Nippon Steel, Nissan Chemical and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, citing a 1965 treaty between Korea and Japan that settles all reparation claims.

    The decision runs counter to a 2018 Supreme Court ruling in a similar case that treaties between states cannot override individual rights to seek compensation.

    "While individual Korean citizens' right to claim against the Japanese state or Japanese people has not been terminated or waived by the 1965 treaty, it does restrict the exercise of their individual rights through lawsuits," the court ruled.

    Permitting the plaintiffs to enforce any claim through a Korean court would be both a "violation of the constitutional principles of national security and public order" and an "abuse of power," considering the international backlash if treaties can be challenged by individuals, it added.

    The victims' lawyer, Kang Gil, condemned the ruling as "unjustifiable" because it "runs directly counter to the Supreme Court ruling in a similar case."

    Representatives of forced labor victims talk to reporters at the Seoul Central District Court on Monday. /Newsis

    In 2018, the Supreme Court ordered Nippon Steel in a 11:2 decision to pay each of four plaintiffs W100 million in damages and back wages (US$1=W1,113).

    At the time, the Supreme Court ruled the 1965 treaty "was aimed at resolving financial and civil liabilities between the two countries" and "cannot cover individual victims' right to claim for damages because Japan denied them compensation without recognizing the illegitimacy of its colonial rule."

    Nippon Steel refused to pay, and lower courts have since ordered the seizure of its assets in Korea.

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