The Korea Herald

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Court orders Japan to compensate ‘comfort women’

By Choi Si-young

Published : Nov. 23, 2023 - 17:28

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The South Korean flag (right) and Japanese flag. (123rf) The South Korean flag (right) and Japanese flag. (123rf)

A South Korean appeals court found the Japanese government liable for damages to be paid to Korean women forced to work in wartime brothels during its 1910-45 occupation of the peninsula, reversing the previous ruling two years ago.

A group of 21 plaintiffs -- “comfort women” or sex abuse victims who are still alive and their families -- filed the complaint in 2016. Dismissing the case in 2021, the court acknowledged Japan has state immunity from lawsuits in another country. The same year, another judge at the same Seoul Central District Court had already ruled in favor of comfort women in a separate case.

The decision Thursday by the Seoul High Court said plaintiffs had suffered wrongdoing and are entitled to compensation, which is 200 million won ($150,000) each per complainant as demanded. International customary law recognizes Japan is subject to South Korean jurisdiction, the judge said.

The latest decision holding Japan legally liable for sexual slavery comes as the Yoon Suk Yeol administration has sought to move forward from past colonial disputes. In March, Yoon rolled out a deal to politically resolve differences over Korean forced laborers by compensating them with Korean funds. Korea has since been waiting for Japanese firms responsible for wrongdoing to chip in.

A senior official at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul said the ministry is looking into the ruling, declining to elaborate. The Japanese government has repeatedly said that the comfort women issue was settled under a 1965 treaty that normalized relations following Seoul’s independence from Tokyo in 1945. A 2015 deal, which the two countries tried as a resolution but is now essentially suspended, is cited as a settlement.

Seoul and Tokyo have been on better footing since May, when the two neighbors resumed regular leader-level visits to each other’s countries after a 12-year hiatus. The thaw, prompted by the March proposal, is expected to bring the two closer than ever. Together with the US, they are seeking to form a stronger three-way coalition to jointly take on rising nuclear threats from North Korea.