South Korean court orders Japan to pay compensation to sex slaves

SEOUL, 8 Jan 2021:

A South Korean court today ruled Japan must compensate a dozen women forcibly prostituted by the imperial army in the first half of the 20th century, in what is the first sentence of its kind concerning this thorny dispute between both countries.

A court in the central district of Seoul accepted the lawsuit of 12 South Korean sex slaves filed in 2013 for the Japanese government to compensate each with 100 million won (US$91,155) – a judgment that promises to further erode the relationship bilateral of both neighbours.

Plaintiffs claim they were tricked or forced into serving as sex slaves for Japanese troops before and during World War II.

Only five of these 12 plaintiffs are still alive, as many of the sex slaves (referred to euphemistically by the Japanese government as “comfort women”) have already passed away. Only 16 of the victims registered by the South Korean Administration survive.

It is estimated some 200,000 girls and adolescents in Asia, most of them Korean, were victims of sexual abuse by Japanese imperial troops from the 1930s until the end of World War II, in 1945.

Tokyo has defended from the beginning this lawsuit should have been dismissed based on sovereign immunity, a legal doctrine that considers it improper for a foreign court to rule on the confiscation of assets from another country.

The plaintiffs’ defence has argued sovereign immunity should not apply in the case of war crimes or crimes against human rights.

This sentence is the latest episode in the conflict between Seoul and Tokyo on account of the Japanese colonial legacy on the Korean peninsula, which dominated between 1910 and 1945.

It also comes after the current South Korean government scrapped a bilateral agreement signed in 2015 between Tokyo and the former conservative administration in Seoul to compensate sex slaves with about US$8 million, arguing it was agreed behind the backs of the public and those affected.