Japan Court Rejects Philippine Sex Slave Case

By Elaine Lies, Reuters, Wednesday 6 December 2000, 3:09 AM ET

TOKYO (Reuters)—A Japanese court Wednesday rejected a lawsuit filed by nearly 50 aging Filipina women demanding cash compensation for being forced to work as sex slaves for the Japanese imperial army in the 1930s and 1940s.

In contrast to a similar case last week, the court also failed to recognize their suffering or acknowledge that the army's treatment of the woman violated international treaties. Some 46 Filipinas had demanded $8.3 million in compensation for being forced to work as sex slaves for Japanese troops in the Philippines from 1942 until Japan's World War Two defeat three years later.

Some of the women were as young as 10.

An earlier suit by the women was rejected in 1998 by a lower court. They promptly appealed to the Tokyo High Court, which upheld the decision Wednesday.

The Japanese army raped us, and I was treated like a pig, said 73-year-old Ortencia Martinez. I will not forget the pain.

This verdict is not right.

In handing down the ruling, Tokyo High Court Judge Masato Niimura said: In light of international law, individuals are not granted the right to demand compensation from the country that did them harm.

A court official declined to provide details, but lawyers for the women said the ruling was so brief it took only five minutes to read.

Furious But Fighting

This was a very bad verdict, said lawyer Tomoko Suganuma. They did not face up to the facts of the issue at all.

Another lawyer on the team said that only two lines in the ruling appeared to touch on the question of the Japanese government's responsibility, and then to only vaguely hint at various deeds committed during the war.

The women themselves were unhappy but vowed to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.

During the war, we were treated as animals and lost our dignity, said Carmencita Ramel. I was hoping the court would give us back our dignity, but that was not so.

Tokyo has not paid direct compensation to any of the estimated 200,000 mostly Asian women forced to work in brothels for the Japanese military before and during World War Two, saying all claims were settled by peace treaties that ended the war.

In 1995, Tokyo set up the Asian Women's Fund, a private group with heavy government support, to make cash payments to all surviving wartime sex slaves.

We have learned to expect little from the Japanese justice system, said Susan Macabuag from Malaya Lolas, a group that supports the women. Our case is as plain as day, but legal technicalities were used against us.

Different Rulings

Lawyers said the verdict was especially disappointing following rulings made by the same court in two similar cases last week.

In one, the court ruled against compensating a Korean woman who had also been a sex slave, but recognized that her treatment had violated international treaties and said government legislation might be one way to address the compensation issue.

And in what may prove a landmark settlement, the nation's biggest construction firm, Kajima Corp, agreed to set up a $4.5 million fund for Chinese who were forced to work for it in World War Two.

While Kajima said the fund was not intended as compensation, lawyers for the laborers and their families hailed it as a great achievement because Kajima had apologized and set up the fund, a possible precedent for similar future cases.

Noting that the same judge ruled on both Wednesday's case and the Kajima case last week, Suganuma said: There's obviously a big difference between the two.

A company can apologize. But if it's something where a country's involved, even the courts seem able to do very little.