Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

  • HOME
  • Speaking Out
  • 【#802】Epoch-making Ruling on Wartime Korean Workers in Japan
Tsutomu Nishioka

【#802】Epoch-making Ruling on Wartime Korean Workers in Japan

Tsutomu Nishioka / 2021.06.17 (Thu)

June 14, 2021

On June 7, the Seoul Central District Court made a just ruling on wartime Korean workers in Japan. It turned down a lawsuit in which 85 plaintiffs including former such workers sought 100 million won (about$90,000) per plaintiff in compensation from 16 Japanese companies.

When reading the 43-page ruling, I was moved by presiding judge Kim Yang Ho’s sense of balance and patriotism.

Reaffirming final settlement

Relations between Japan and South Korea have deteriorated since a South Korean Supreme Court judgment on wartime Korean workers in October 2018. The fundamental problem with the Supreme Court decision is that it self-righteously interpreted Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula as illegal and contended that the right to claim damages for the illegal act should not be included into issues that were settled definitely under the 1965 Japan-South Korea basic relations treaty and agreement concerning the settlement of problems regarding property and claims.

The biggest achievement of the latest Seoul Central District Court ruling is the reversal of the Supreme Court judgment. Reaffirming the principle of international law that domestic law should not be used to justify any breach of international treaties, the district court ruling said that the Supreme Court judgment was based on the domestic interpretation of the colonial rule as illegal and thus the requisition of Korean workers as illegal and that such domestic interpretation cannot justify any breach of the claims agreement that amounts to a treaty in which Japan and South Korea agreed to settle all claims through compensation without reaching mutual understanding on whether the Japanese colonial rule was legal or illegal. It then concluded that South Korea is internationally bound by the claims agreement. If South Korea implements compulsory execution to seize property of Japanese companies to win their damages payments as requested by the plaintiffs, the dignity of South Korea as a civilized nation would be lost, the district court ruling said.

Reflecting the sunset of the leftist regime

On April 21, a different team of judges at the Seoul Central District Court turned down a lawsuit by former comfort women demanding compensation from the Japanese government based on the principle of “sovereign immunity” that any sovereign government is immune from being sued in foreign countries. It reversed a January ruling that ordered the Japanese government to pay damages for the reason that the comfort women system represented an inhumane state crime excepted from the principle of sovereign immunity.

The two recent rulings made in favor of Japan might have been interpreted as indicating that the South Korean judicial branch has been influenced by the Moon Jae In regime that hopes to improve relations with Japan. But I do not endorse such interpretation. The April ruling concluded that comfort women were coercively recruited by public authority, decided that such state crime was subjected to the principle of sovereign immunity and urged the South Korean government to diplomatically resolve former comfort women’s claims still left unresolved. Such ruling cannot lead to improving Japan-South Korea relations.

The latest Seoul Central District Court ruling might reflects a relative decline of anti-Japan leftists as the leftist Moon regime has become a lame duck with less than one year left before its five-year term expires. Recognition of facts regarding wartime Korean workers in Japan have become spread in South Korea through the publication of “Anti-Japan Tribalism” and the Korean language version of my “Faked Requisitioned Workers” published recently. The recognition may also have exerted some influence on the judicial branch. While the ruling Democratic Party of Korea and leftist media have harshly criticized judge Kim as a traitor, some newspapers, including the Chosun Ilbo that is usually susceptible to anti-Japan populist messages, have supported the Kim ruling, indicating that South Korean public opinion is divided.

Tsutomu Nishioka is a senior fellow and a Planning Committee member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals and a visiting professor at Reitaku University. He covers South and North Koreas.