Seoul: A South Korean court has ordered the Japanese government to pay compensation to 12 World War II sex slaves or their families, in an unprecedented ruling that prompted an immediate denunciation by Tokyo.
The Seoul Central District Court ruled yesterday that Japan should pay the victims 100 million won (RM370,000) each.
It is the first civilian legal case in South Korea against Tokyo by wartime sex slaves for Japanese troops, who were euphemistically labelled “comfort women”.
The ruling comes despite a 1965 treaty between Seoul and Tokyo which declared that claims between them had been settled.
Imperial Japan was responsible for the “comfort women” system, the court said in its verdict.
“The plaintiffs, who were in their late teens or early 20s, were subjected to repeated sexual exploitation, ” it said.
Tokyo and Seoul are both major US allies, democracies and market economies, but their deepening rift will present incoming US president Joe Biden with an immediate foreign policy headache as he seeks to build a common front on nuclear-armed North Korea.
Ties between the neighbours are strained by Japan’s early-20th century colonial rule over Korea, which is still bitterly resented on the peninsula, and have plunged to their worst in years under South Korea’s centre-left President Moon Jae-in.
Tokyo denounced yesterday’s ruling as a violation of international law and summoned Seoul’s ambassador to protest, demanding that the South Korean government intervene.
“This lawsuit should be rejected. The comfort women issue between Japan and South Korea... has already been resolved completely and definitely, ” Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said. — AFP