A South Korean court ordered Japan to pay compensation to the nation’s “comfort women,” sex slaves abducted during World War II, or their families, in an unprecedented ruling formally protested by Tokyo on Friday.
“The Seoul Central District Court ordered Tokyo to make financial reparations of 100 million won (US$91,300) each to 12 ‘comfort women’ who were dragged away from their homes and forced to work in front-line military brothels for Japanese soldiers during World War II,” South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported on January 8.
“Evidence, relevant materials, and testimonies show that the victims suffered from extreme, unimaginable mental and physical pain due to the illegal acts by the accused. But no compensation has been made for their suffering,” the court said in a verdict.
Historians estimate that roughly 200,000 women – largely from the Korean Peninsula but also other parts of Asia occupied by Japan during World War II, including China and the Philippines – were forced to work in brothels run by the Japanese Imperial Army during the war. The sex slaves are referred to by some as “comfort women,” which is a translation of the Japanese euphemism for “prostitute.”
Japan’s government denies that it is directly responsible for the alleged wartime abuses and has insisted that the victims were “recruited by civilians and that the military brothels were commercially operated,” Agence France-Presse (AFP) noted on January 8, adding, “Friday’s ruling came in a legal process that began eight years ago and several of the original plaintiffs have since died, to be replaced by family members.”
Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide called the South Korean court ruling “utterly unacceptable” when asked about the case by reporters outside his office in Tokyo on January 8.
“Under international law a sovereign state is not subject to the jurisdiction of foreign courts and the lawsuit must be thrown out,” Suga was paraphrased as saying by Japan’s Kyodo News.
“He said the ruling goes against a 1965 bilateral agreement that settled properties and claims related to Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, including the treatment of the women forced to work at Japanese wartime military brothels,” Kyodo added.
“I strongly urge the South Korean government to correct this violation of international law,” Suga said.
Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Takeo Akiba launched a formal diplomatic protest against the ruling on Friday. Takeo summoned South Korea’s Ambassador to Japan, Nam Gwan Pyo, on January 8 to file the protest, “telling him the ruling earlier in the day is ‘extremely regrettable,'” according to Japan’s Foreign Ministry.
Many observers credit South Korea’s leftist president, Moon Jae-in, for the “comfort women” case’s resurgence in recent years after his administration, formed in 2017, nullified an agreement reached under his conservative predecessor, Park Geun-Hye, to resolve the issue.