S. Korea orders Japan to pay 16 wartime ‘comfort women’ $153K each in landmark ruling
By Ryan General
November 24, 2023
The Seoul High Court has ordered the Japanese government to pay 200 million won ($153,300) in compensation to each of the 16 women who were among those kept as sex slaves in
Landmark decision: Known colloquially as “comfort women,” the group of victims filed a lawsuit against the Japanese government in 2016, seeking compensation as well as acknowledgment and redress for the pain and suffering endured during their wartime ordeal. In 2021, the Seoul Central District Court dismissed the case, citing sovereign immunity.
With its landmark ruling on Nov. 23. the appeal’s court overturned the lower court decision, asserting that Japan’s wartime actions violated international treaties and criminal law, reported the Japan Times. In rejecting the concept of sovereign immunity, the high court argued that a perpetrator country is not immune when its citizens suffer illegal acts within their own borders.
Historical context: The court’s decision reflects a broader effort to address historical injustices and acknowledges the widespread impact of wartime sexual exploitation. Over 200,000 women and girls, many of whom were Korean, were forced into prostitution to serve Japanese soldiers during World War II. This systemic abuse extended beyond Korea, affecting women from mainland China, the Philippines, Indonesia and Taiwan.
Compensation for victims: Lee Yong Soo, a 95-year-old activist and the only surviving plaintiff, expressed gratitude for the compensation order, noting that she wished to share the verdict with victims who had already passed away.
“I’m grateful. I’m really grateful,” she was quoted as saying.
Japan’s protest: The ruling comes amid recent diplomatic efforts to improve South Korea–Japan relations. In response to the ruling, Japan swiftly lodged a protest, with Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa terming it “extremely regrettable and absolutely unacceptable.”
Japan contends that issues related to its 1910-1945 colonization of the Korean Peninsula were resolved under a 1965 bilateral agreement and a 2015 accord, asserting finality to the comfort women issue. While the high court acknowledged Japan’s argument as a potential point of contention, it noted it was not considered due to the Japanese government’s non-participation in the case.
Japan ignored a similar ruling for a different lawsuit in January 2021, in which the Seoul Central District Court also ordered it to pay compensation to former comfort women.
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