SEOUL: Seoul Central District Court ordered the Japanese government on Friday to pay damages to a group of former comfort women in South Korea over their wartime treatment.
The court entirely endorsed the 12 plaintiffs’ claim and ruled that the Japanese government should pay 100 million won, or some 9.5 million yen, to each of them as demanded.
The ruling was the first handed down for a lawsuit launched by former comfort women in South Korea against the Japanese government.
The order is expected to further strain relations between Japan and South Korea as it goes against Tokyo’s position that the issue of former comfort women, who were forced to provide sex to Japanese soldiers before and during World War II, has already been resolved.
The Japanese government skipped all the hearings for the lawsuit, arguing that the principle of sovereign immunity, which puts states outside the jurisdiction of foreign courts, should apply to the case and that the plaintiffs’ claim should thus be rejected.
The ruling judged that Japan committed systematic, deliberate and extensive antihumanitarian criminal acts against former comfort women, running counter to international rules.
The principal of sovereign immunity does not apply to these acts, and thus jurisdiction can be exercised against the Japanese government, the ruling said.
The ruling also found the plaintiffs suffered emotional and physical pain. It cannot be said that the plaintiffs lost their rights to claim because of a 1965 treaty signed by Japan and South Korea on property and claims or a 2015 bilateral agreement for the resolution of the matter, the ruling said.
The lawsuit was filed by 12 former comfort women, but only five of them are still alive.
In August 2013, the women filed for court mediation seeking damages from the Japanese government. The suit was launched in January 2016 after Tokyo refused the request.
Another ruling is to be handed down on Wednesday for a similar damages suit, filed against the Japanese government by a group of 20 former comfort women. Friday’s ruling makes it more likely that the principle of sovereign immunity will not apply, meaning a loss for Japan.