Comfort women payout overturned

AFP, The Straits Times, Friday 30 March 2001

A High Court rejects decision to pay wartime sex slaves 300,000 yen each after both sides appeal against award, the first to be given to such victims

TOKYO—A Japanese court yesterday overturned the only compensation award ever ordered for former World War II sex slaves.

Hiroshima’s High Court reversed a landmark April 1998 ruling by a lower court under which the Japanese government was to pay 300,000 yen (S$4,500) in damages to each of three South Korean women.

They were among a group of 10 plaintiffs who had demanded 564 million yen in damages.

The ruling in their favour was the first and, so far, only compensation award to women who were forced to serve as ’comfort women’ to Japanese soldiers in front-line brothels.

Around 10 similar suits have been filed against the government for the role of its wartime predecessor and are awaiting court rulings.

In the case adjudicated yesterday, both the state and plaintiffs had appealed against the original judgment, with the South Koreans demanding a public apology from the government and a total of 396 million yen in compensation.

During a court hearing last year, one of the plaintiffs, 82-year-old Lee Sun Dok, had rolled up her skirt to show a scar on her belly which she said was an emblem of Japanese soldiers’ violence.

The three former sex slaves and seven forced labourers, including one who has since died, argued that they were deceived by the Japanese government, which lured them with sweet talk about good business opportunities.

The former sex slaves said they were taken to brothels in Taiwan and Shanghai to provide sex to Japanese troops between 1937 and 1940.

The plaintiffs argued that the government had to apologise and pay compensation for the invasion and colonisation of Asian neighbours.

But the state insisted that such a claim had no substance under the Constitution.

While granting compensation on the grounds that the government had neglected its responsibility to help the comfort women recover from the hurt they suffered, the lower court’s original ruling in 1998 said Tokyo had no obligation to apologise officially.

It also rejected the request for compensation by the seven forced labourers.

South Korean civic groups yesterday condemned the Japanese court decision angrily.

’The court overturned a lower court’s ruling with a monstrous logic, charging that the present and past governments of Japan are irrelevant,’ said a statement issued by a coalition of 22 Korean civic groups.

The coalition, known as Chongdaehyop in Korean, has been working for South Korean women who were drafted into Japanese brothels in the war.

The group urged the Japanese government to take legal responsibility for past wrongdoings, to become a true member of the international community.

Tokyo has avoided volunteering direct compensation for the former sex slaves, instead setting up a private group, the Asian Women’s Fund, to offer compensation.

But many of the women have refused to accept the payouts, demanding that Japan faces up to its past and pay state compensation.

Historians say some 200,000 young women, mostly Korean, were forced to serve as sex slaves during World War II.