SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – A South Korean court on Monday dismissed a lawsuit filed by dozens of wartime Korean factory workers and their relatives demanding compensation from 16 Japanese companies for their labor. slave during the colonial occupation of Korea by Japan.
The Seoul Central District Court ruling appears to run counter to landmark 2018 Supreme Court rulings that ordered Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to compensate Korean forced laborers.
It largely aligns with the position held by the Japanese government, which insists that all wartime compensation issues were settled under a 1965 treaty normalizing relations between the two nations.
A total of 85 plaintiffs claimed 8.6 billion won ($ 7.7 million) in damages against 16 Japanese companies, including Nippon Steel, Nissan Chemical and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
The court dismissed their civil action after finding that the 1965 treaty does not allow South Korean citizens to bring legal action against the Japanese government or Japanese nationals for wartime grievances. Granting the plaintiffs’ request would violate international legal principles that countries cannot use domestic law to justify non-compliance with a treaty, the court said.
Some plaintiffs told reporters in court that they planned to appeal. Emotional Lim Chul-ho, 85, the son of a deceased forced laborer, said the court made a “pathetic” decision that should never have happened.
“Are they really South Korean judges? Is this really a South Korean court? He asked. “We don’t need a country or a government that doesn’t protect its own people.
South Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement that it respects the rulings of domestic courts and is ready to engage in talks with Tokyo to find “rational” solutions that can satisfy both governments and citizens. victims of war.
It was not immediately clear how the decision would affect diplomacy among the allies of the United States, which came under pressure from the Biden administration to repair relations that sank to post-war lows during the Trump years in history and trade disputes.
The Seoul court in April issued a similar ruling on a complaint by Korean victims of wartime Japanese sexual slavery and their relatives, another sticking point in bilateral relations. In that decision, the court dismissed their claim for compensation from the Japanese government, citing diplomatic considerations and principles of international law that grant countries immunity from the jurisdiction of foreign courts.
Seoul-Tokyo relations have been around since the Supreme Court ordered Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in 2018 to compensate Korean forced laborers. These decisions led to further trade tensions when Japan imposed export controls on chemicals essential to South Korea’s semiconductor industry in 2019.
Seoul accused Tokyo of militarizing trade and threatened to end a military intelligence-sharing deal with Tokyo, a major symbol of their three-way security cooperation with Washington. South Korea ultimately backed down and maintained the deal after coming under pressure from the Trump administration, which until then seemed content to let its allies escalate their feud in public.
South Korea’s tone on Japan has softened since the inauguration of President Joe Biden, who has stepped up efforts to strengthen three-way cooperation among the countries that have declined under the ‘L’ approach. America First ”by Donald Trump, in order to coordinate action on China’s growth. North Korea’s influence and nuclear threat.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, in a nationally televised address in March, said his government was keen to forge a “forward-looking” relationship with Japan and said the countries would not. should not allow their wartime past to hold them back.