A court in South Korea delivered a verdict on Friday, ordering the government of Japan to compensate the survivors of sexual slavery. They have been ordered to pay 91,800 US dollars to each of the 12 Korean ‘comfort women’ for Japan’s troops during World War II.
The Seoul District Court officially stated, “Japan’s mobilization of these women as sexual slaves was a crime against humanity. This was when Japan illegally occupied the Korean Peninsula from 1910-45, and the women were the victims of ‘harsh sexual activities’ by Japanese soldiers who caused them bodily harm, venereal diseases and unwanted pregnancies and left big mental scars in the women’s lives.”
The court further added that Japan’s sovereign immunity cannot shield it from lawsuits in South Korea.
However, the government of Japan responded to the lawsuit in a hostile manner. They immediately protested the ruling and maintained that all wartime compensation issues were resolved under a 1965 treaty that restored their diplomatic ties.
Japan’s Foreign Ministry told that the Vice Foreign Minister Takeo Akiba summoned South Korean Ambassador Nam Gwan Pyo to register Tokyo’s protest of the verdict. Furthermore, the Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato also called the ruling ‘extremely regrettable and unacceptable by Japan.’ They further added that the Korean court had no jurisdiction over Japan.
The foreign ministry of South Korea said on Friday that it will abide by the ruling and strive harder than before to reclaim the dignity of the women. It added that it will examine the possible effects of the verdict on ties with Japan and make efforts to maintain ‘future-oriented’ cooperation with the country.
Nonetheless, the observers are saying that this verdict can increase animosity between the two key allies of United States, right before Joe Biden gets sworn in as the President.
The struggle of the ‘comfort women’
‘Comfort women’ is a euphemism for the women and girls forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army in occupied countries and territories before and during World War II, or who participated in the earlier recruitment of voluntary prostitution. It was an officially sanctioned practise during those times. Around 200,000 women from South Korea and other Asian countries were forced into Japanese sexual slavery, as reported by the United Nations.
The report states, “A large number of the women speak of violence used on family members who tried to prevent the abduction of their daughters. In some cases, they also reported being raped by soldiers in front of their parents before being forcibly taken off.”
Although the Japanese occupation came to an end in 1945, the forced women continued to suffer from great psychological trauma as well as pervasive social stigma and ostracism. According to the judge who granted the full amount of 91,000 US dollars to the plaintiffs, the damage they suffered surpassed that amount.
It was not until 1991, when a South Korean woman named Kim Hak-soon made the first public testimony on her painful wartime experiences, that the issue went global. A total of 240 women have since come forward. However, only 16 — all in their 80s and 90s — are still alive.
The proceedings in the case got delayed as Japan firmly refused to accept the legal documents. In fact, seven of the 12 women who filed the lawsuit died while waiting for the ruling. Another 20 women, some already ill and/or represented by their surviving relatives, filed a separate suit against Japan. The ruling is expected to be heard next week. The women’s lawyer, Kim Kang-won, said he was ‘deeply moved’ as the ruling acknowledged Japan should take accountability for the atrocities committed against the women.
In 2015, South Korea’s previous government made a deal with Japan to resolve the dispute of sexual slavery. Under the deal, Japan offered a fresh apology and agreed to fund a foundation to support victims. In return, Japan demanded from South Korea to stop its criticism against the country on global forums.
However, the agreement was heavily criticised by activists and plaintiffs, as it was reached without prior consultation with the victims. Lee Yong-Soo, one of the survivor-woman, told The New York Times that the agreement does not reflect the views and demands of former comfort women.
Feature Image Credits: Associated Press