Japan was ordered this Thursday to compensate 16 women forced into sexual slavery in Japanese military brothels during World War II, according to a decision by a South Korean court, criticized by Tokyo.
This ruling annulled the decision of a court of first instance that had rejected, two years earlier, compensation for these women, forced to prostitute themselves in the imperial army’s brothels during the world conflict.
On April 21, 2021, when examining this first civil case brought to court in South Korea against Tokyo, a Seoul Central District court highlighted Japan’s “sovereign immunity” to reject victims’ requests, arguing that its granting could cause a diplomatic conflict.
But the Seoul High Court ruled this Thursday that it was “reasonable to say that sovereign immunity should not be respected (…) in cases of illegal conduct”, according to a court document consulted by the agency France-Presse (AFP).
This instance determined that around 141 thousand euros be paid to each of the plaintiffs, some of whom have passed away and are represented by their families.
The court concluded that the victims had been “forcibly kidnapped or lured into sexual slavery” and ruled that as a result they had suffered harm and “were unable to lead a normal life after the war.”.
Lee Young-soo, one of the 16 plaintiffs, now 95 years old, raised her arms to the sky in joy as she left the courtroom, telling journalists: “I am very grateful (…). I thank the victims who died.”
According to historians, around 200,000 women, mainly from Korea but also from other Asian countries, including China, were forced to become sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War II.
This issue has long weighed on bilateral relations between Seoul and Tokyo, which colonized the Korean peninsula between 1910 and 1945.
In reaction to the decision, Japan’s Foreign Minister, Yoko Kamikawa, classified the sentence as “clearly contrary to international law and agreements between the two countries”.
Yoko Kamikawa considered the decision “extremely regrettable and absolutely unacceptable”.
For its part, the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs stressed that it is “examining the sentence in detail”.
The ruling comes at a time when the conservative government of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol seeks to bury the historical hatchet and strengthen ties with Tokyo so that the two countries can jointly confront an increasingly threatening North Korea at the national level. military.
The Japanese government denies direct responsibility for abuses during the war, noting that the victims were recruited by civilians and that military brothels were commercially exploited.
Tokyo has consistently refused to appear before South Korean courts, maintaining that the dispute had been resolved by the 1965 treaty, which involved the payment of around 733 million euros in compensation in the form of grants and low-interest loans.
The issue of sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army was first raised to public opinion in 1991, when victim Kim Hak Sun testified about her experience as a “comfort woman”, a term attributed to these women, becoming the first Korean woman talking about it publicly.
First record of “comfort women” revealed, Japan’s biggest embarrassment
His action encouraged hundreds of victims from Korea, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia and the Netherlands to do the same.