South Korea Court dismisses suit for compensation by victims of Japanese Occupation Sexual Slavery

The Seoul Central District Court on Wednesday dismissed a compensation suit filed by South Korean women forced to serve in Japanese military “comfort stations” (brothels) before and after World War II, as well as the families of the deceased victims. The lawsuit was filed in 2016 by 20 plaintiffs who demanded USD 2.7 million from the Japanese government.

Judge Min Seong-Cheol presided over the case, which ruled that the Japanese government enjoys sovereign immunity under customary international law, which means it is immune from the jurisdiction of foreign courts. “If [the court] recognises a state immunity exemption, a diplomatic conflict will inevitably occur during the process of making and implementing the ruling,” the court said. “Resolution of the cosmos” is a phrase that means “resolution of comfort women issue should be made through diplomatic discussions.”

In January, a separate panel of judges at the same court ruled that the theory did not apply to crimes against humanity and war crimes, and ordered the Japanese government to pay the 12 plaintiffs in the case about $90,000 each. It was the first time a court ruled in favour of the victims of this sexual enslavement scheme.

The Japanese government had rejected the January decision, claiming that it violated international law by asserting sovereignty over Japan and that the matter of compensation had been resolved by the 1965 Agreement on the Settlement of Problems Concerning Property and Claims and on Economic Cooperation between the two countries. The South Korean government maintains that the 1965 agreement had not taken into account the individual suffering of victims. The plaintiffs in the January lawsuit requested that the court begin the process of seizing properties owned by the Japanese government in South Korea to pay their legal fees. Seizing the money, it said, maybe a breach of international law.

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