A Seoul Court has ordered Japan to compensate a group of wartime sex slaves.
This recent judgment is the most recent piece of an ongoing dispute between the two countries on the issue of sexual enslavement of women in the Second World War.
The Seoul Court found that the Japanese Government was liable to compensate 12 women who were forced to work as “comfort women” and to pay 100 million won (£67,000) in compensation to each of the women.
It is thought that as many as 200,000 women mostly Koreans were compelled or duped into working in military brothels for the Imperial Japanese Army during the Second World War, many were raped and beaten and had forced abortions.
Japan who said the court has no jurisdiction and took no part in the proceedings is unlikely to comply with the judgment of the Seoul Court.
Japan has argued that sovereign immunity applies in these cases but the Seoul Court ruled that “Even if it was a country’s sovereign act, state immunity cannot be applied as it was committed against our citizens on the Korean peninsula, which was illegally occupied by Japan.”
Japan has also argued that all compensation claims were settled in 1965 when both countries re-stablished diplomatic ties and any outstanding issues were addressed in a 2015 agreement between the parties.
In late 2015, the countries said they had “finally and irreversibly” resolved this issue when Japan agreed to contribute ¥1bn to a foundation to support survivors and their families, while the then Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, offered his “most sincere apologies”.
However, in in 2018, South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, effectively reversed the settlement, which he had not been party to on the basis that it did not meet the needs and expectations of the surviving women or the wider South Korean public.
There are only 16 registered survivors/”comfort women” still alive and of the 12 survivors who brought this claim, which has been ongoing since 2013 only 7 are still alive though the families of the other 5 are able to represent their interests.
This judgment (which is unlikely to be the end of this thorny issue) also serves as a reminder to people dealing with claims relating to historical sexual abuse, of the importance of achieving a fair and equitable settlement as between the parties so as to ensure finality for all.