South Korean court orders Japan to compensate 12 ‘comfort women’

Hundreds of people gather for a rally to mark the International Memorial Day for Comfort Women on August 14, 2020 in Seoul, South Korea. In 2018, South Korea established the memorial day for the victims of Japan's wartime sexual slavery. (Photo by Chris Jung/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

A South Korean court ordered Japan to pay compensation to 12 so-called comfort women who were used as sex slaves during World War 2 in a landmark ruling issued Friday that is likely to inflame tensions between the East Asian neighbors.

In its verdict, which is the first of its kind, Seoul Central District Court ruled that Japan must pay damages of $91,900 to each of the five surviving plaintiffs and the family members of those who have died since the case was originally filed in 2013.

The women were abducted and forced into wartime brothels where they were “exposed to constant violence, torture and sexual assault,” the court wrote in its ruling, actions it described as a “crime against humanity.”

Japan’s foreign ministry issued a statement protesting the ruling later Friday, calling it “absolutely unacceptable” and announcing that it had immediately summoned South Korean Ambassador to Japan Nam Gwang-pyo.

The ministry’s statement repeated Japan’s long-held contention that all wartime reparations claims were settled by a 1965 bilateral treaty that normalized relations between the two countries.

A further 2015 agreement between then-Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the since-impeached South Korean President Park Geun-hye contributed some $8 million to set up a foundation to support the comfort women. The ministry called the step a “final and irreversible solution” between the two governments in its statement.

However, in 2017, South Korean President Moon Jae-in -in declared that the negotiations had serious flaws and said the agreement “does not resolve the issue over comfort women.”

The Seoul court wrote in its decision Friday that the victims’ rights to claim damages were not overridden by the state-level agreements.

Japan did not participate in the case and has argued that it has state immunity, a doctrine that says a sovereign state cannot be sued in a foreign court without its consent.

Friday’s verdict also rejected that claim. CURRENTPH

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