July 31, 2013 by Water Wisdom
South Korean Court Tells Japanese Company to Pay for Forced Labor
By CHOE SANG-HUN
Published: July 30, 2013
SEOUL, South Korea — In a verdict expected to intensify tensions with Japan, a South Korean court on Tuesday ordered Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to compensate five South Koreans who were forced to work in the company’s factories during the period of Japanese colonial rule of Korea, which ended with World War II.
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The high court in Busan, a port city in southeastern South Korea, ordered the company to pay $71,800 to each of the five Koreans.
It was the second such ruling against a Japanese company this month. On July 10, the Seoul High Court ordered the Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal Corporation to pay $89,800 to each of four South Korean plaintiffs to compensate them for forced labor. Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi each said they planned to appeal.
The Busan court said in its ruling that Mitsubishi forced the South Korean plaintiffs to “toil in poor conditions in Hiroshima and yet failed to pay wages,” and “did not provide proper shelters or food after the dropping of an atomic bomb” there in 1945. All five plaintiffs are now deceased; their families represented them in court.
The two rulings were the first in favor of South Koreans in a 16-year legal battle waged in Japan and South Korea, and they could prompt similar lawsuits from other victims or their families. At least 1.2 million Koreans were forced to work for Japan’s war efforts in Japan, China and elsewhere, historians here said. Some 300 Japanese companies still in operation are believed to have used forced labor during the colonial period from 1910 to 1945, according to officials in the South Korean capital, Seoul.
South Korean plaintiffs first sued in Japan in 1997, but Japan’s top court dismissed the cases in 2005, saying the 1965 treaty normalizing diplomatic ties between Japan and South Korea closed the issue. The companies took the same position in the South Korean court cases.
“While we have not confirmed the details of the ruling, we understand that all such claims between the two countries, including compensation for interned laborers, have been completely and conclusively settled under official state agreements,” a spokesman for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries said in a statement reacting to the Busan court’s ruling. “A ruling that goes against these agreements has no legitimacy and is truly regrettable.”
Local judges in South Korea honored the rulings by the Japanese courts in the companies’ favor. But the Supreme Court overturned their rulings in a landmark decision in May 2012 and sent the cases back to the lower courts for trial, saying the Japanese rulings went against the Constitution of South Korea and international legal norms.
“We have two different rulings on the same cases in two different countries,” said Chang Wan-ick, a lawyer and leading campaigner for South Korean victims. “The civilized societies around the world will know which ruling is right: mobilizing civilians for forced labor for a war of aggression is wrong.”
If the rulings against Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi are upheld by the Supreme Court in South Korea and the Japanese companies refuse to pay compensation, the plaintiffs could try to have the court seize assets of the companies in South Korea, a step that would certainly escalate into a diplomatic spat.
On Tuesday, the South Korean bar association urged the Japanese companies and the governments of Japan and South Korea to avoid such a confrontation by establishing a foundation to compensate the victims and promote “historical reconciliation.”
The Foreign Ministry of South Korea said it was closely monitoring the court cases.
Hiroko Tabuchi contributed reporting from Tokyo.