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  • Writer's pictureSu Lee

South Korean Court Dismisses Comfort Women's Lawsuit

In 2013, 12 Comfort Women (victims of sexual slavery during the Pacific War), filed a lawsuit to the Seoul Court against the Japanese government. Out of the original 12 plaintiffs, only 5 remain. 8 years later, on April 21, 2021, the South Korean Central Court dismissed the lawsuit.

This January, the court first ruled that "sovereign immunity" does not apply to universal human rights abuse and that the Comfort Women's lawsuit was under South Korean court jurisdiction. However, contradicting its earlier ruling, the court ruled in April that Comfort Women cannot seek compensation from the Japanese government as international law exempts Japan from the authority of foreign courts.

Over the past 30 years, Comfort Women filed 10 lawsuits against the Japanese government in Japanese courts for reparations, losing all of them. The Japanese government continues to claim that the Treaty of Basic Relations signed in 1965 covers the Comfort Women's compensation. However, this treaty never specifically mentions the Comfort Women and the women were not known to the Korean public until Kim Hak Sun's first testimony in 1991.

The principle of "sovereign immunity" is conveniently used when it comes to Comfort Women, while in 2018, the South Korean Supreme Court ruled against the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of Japan on the issue of compensating Korean men who were forced to work in factories during WW2. The Court ruled that Mitsubishi should pay 80 million won to each of the 6 plaintiffs. The Korean Supreme Court ruled similarly regarding other companies such as Japan's Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal. This ruling demonstrates that the Comfort Women issue is not simply a diplomatic conflict between Korean nationalists and Japanese restorationists, but about victims of wartime sexual violence attaining proper justice and recognition. War crimes against women are easily dismissed without proper reparations.

Lee Yong Soo, a surviving Comfort Women who attended the hearing said,

"Regardless of a good verdict or a bad verdict, we need to go to the ICJ (International Court of Justice). That is all I have to say."


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