(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on June 9)

오석민 / 2021-06-09 07:06:37
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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on June 9)

Deepening legal confusion

It is absurd to disregard top court's ruling

A local court has dismissed a damages suit filed by 85 South Korean victims of Japan's wartime forced labor and their families against 16 Japanese companies. This move is stirring up legal confusion over whether individual victims have the right to compensation for their suffering inflicted by Japan during World War II.

Rejecting the suit Monday, the Seoul Central District Court said the "forced laborers" could not claim the individual legal right to seek damages from Japan. This means the victims were not allowed to make any arguments for their claims in court. It is hard to understand why the court dismissed the case without any trial, saying the plaintiffs had no right to litigation.

The dismissal has amplified the agony of the victims who began their legal battle against the Japanese firms, including Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp., Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Nissan Chemical Corp., in 2015. It is difficult to figure out why the court spent such a long time to make such a decision. The court should have paid more attention to the pain of the victims and Japan's persistent refusal to acknowledge its wartime atrocities.

The court stated that it cannot be said that individual compensation claims were terminated or waived by the 1965 treaty between Seoul and Tokyo normalizing their diplomatic relations. But the court decided that the individual rights cannot be exercised through lawsuits. It added that an acceptance of the plaintiffs' claims could result in a violation of international law.

The decision is disappointing as it dims the prospects of the forced labor victims receiving compensation for their exploitation by Japanese businesses. More seriously, the district court disregarded the Supreme Court's October 2018 ruling that upheld an appeals court decision to order Nippon Steel to pay 100 million won ($89,680) in compensation to each of four Korean forced labor victims.

The top court made it clear that individual reparations claims for damages arising from Japan's forced labor were not resolved by the bilateral treaty. That is why Japanese firms should pay compensation to the laborers. Regrettably, however, the district court defied the highest court's ruling, making it harder for the victims to seek compensation from the Japanese side.

The Seoul Central District Court caused another controversy in April by dismissing a damages suit filed by surviving South Korean victims of Japan's wartime sexual slavery. As the main reason for the rejection, the court cited "sovereign immunity," a legal doctrine that allows a state to be immune from civil suits filed in foreign courts. The decision contradicted an earlier ruling made by the same court in January that ordered Japan to pay 100 million won in compensation to each of 12 victims.

Now the plaintiffs in the two dismissed cases will have to wage a long-drawn legal battle. High courts should respect the Supreme Court's ruling made in favor of the victims of Japan's wartime atrocities. At the same time, the Moon Jae-in administration should make concerted diplomatic efforts to resolve historical issues with Japan. For its part, Tokyo also needs to change its rigid stance that all reparations claims were fulfilled under the 1965 treaty.


(C) Yonhap News Agency. All Rights Reserved

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