South Korea: former sex slaves dismissed in their complaint against Tokyo

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A South Korean court on Wednesday put forward Japan’s immunity from jurisdiction to dismiss several women in Tokyo who were claiming compensation for being enslaved during World War II in imperial army brothels.

• Read also: South Korean justice condemns Tokyo to compensate former sex slaves

The decision was astonished by the plaintiffs and their families, given that the same Seoul Central District court in January ordered Tokyo to compensate other plaintiffs. This unprecedented move was condemned by Japan.

It was the first civilian case presented to justice in South Korea against Tokyo by those who were euphemistically called “comfort women”, and who were the sex slaves of the Japanese military.

On Wednesday, the same court rejected separate requests for compensation, considering that “the Japanese government should benefit from the principle of sovereign immunity”, reported the South Korean agency Yonhap.

The move could pave the way for a thaw between Tokyo and Seoul, two allies very close to Washington, in a region dominated by China and facing the threat of a nuclear-armed North Korea.

Relations between Tokyo and Seoul are weighed down by old disputes inherited from the period when the peninsula was a Japanese colony (1910-1945). They have escalated since the election in 2017 of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a center-left lawyer involved in human rights issues.

The victims experienced “immense suffering”, according to the Yonhap agency, the Seoul court said Wednesday, which however considered that the conflict should be settled through “efforts involving diplomatic negotiations”.

One of the plaintiffs, now over 90, said she was amazed at the judges’ decision, leaving the court even before the end of the hearing.

“It’s really scandalous,” Lee Yong-soo denounced to reporters. “I will take the case to the International Court of Justice. “

Her lawyer Lee Sang-hui said the plaintiffs and their counsel have yet to make their decision on whether to appeal.

According to the majority of historians, up to 200,000 women – mainly from Korea but also from other Asian countries including China – have been forced into prostitution in Japanese military brothels.

Tokyo has always refused to appear in South Korean courts, arguing that the dispute was emptied by the 1965 treaty which involved the payment of reparations. It further stipulated that all claims between States and their nationals were “fully and definitively settled”.