Japan Slams 'Unacceptable' Ruling in 'Comfort Women' Case

South Korean court orders country to compensate women forced into sexual slavery
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 24, 2023 12:10 PM CST
Court Orders Japan to Compensate Former Sex Slaves
Former South Korean comfort woman Lee Yong-soo, right, and Yang Geum-deok, a South Korean victim of Japan's wartime forced labor, attend a rally against the South Korean government's move to improve relations with Japan in Seoul, South Korea, on March 1.   (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

In a seven-year court case that has outlived almost all of the women affected by it, Japan has been ordered to compensate so-called "comfort women" who were forced into sexual slavery by its military during World War II. The Seoul High Court in South Korea overturned a lower court's 2021 ruling that dismissed the suit, filed in 2016, on the grounds of sovereign immunity, a doctrine that exempts governments from civil lawsuits in foreign court, reports Reuters. In its Friday ruling, the appellate court said it is "reasonable to consider that there is a common international law which does not recognize state immunity for an illegal act ... regardless of whether the act was a sovereign act."

The court ordered Japan to pay around $150,000 each to 16 plaintiffs, who are now mostly the families of survivors of sexual slavery. The Japan Times reports that the only surviving former "comfort woman" among the plaintiffs is Lee Yong-soo, now in her mid-90s. Reuters reports that she "welcomed the decision and tearfully thanked the court." She said she wished she could share the news with others who passed away before the ruling.

Japan has long insisted that the issue was settled under a 1965 treaty. Yoko Kamikawa, Japan's foreign minister, slammed the ruling, calling it "extremely regrettable and absolutely unacceptable," the BBC reports. She said Japan urges South Korea "to immediately take appropriate measures to remedy the status of its breaches of international law." (More comfort women stories.)

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