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South Korean Court Makes Controversial Ruling On Suit Brought By Former Comfort Women

Aug 7, 2018 by

A South Korean Court based in Seoul, South Korea, shot down a lawsuit brought by 12 former “comfort women” seeking damages against the government. The lawsuit sought damages in the amount of 100 million won for each of the women, or about $91,000 USD. The lawsuit sought these damages over a bilateral agreement between the Korean and Japanese governments in 2015.

The former comfort women filed the lawsuit in the Seoul District Court back in 2016. The women claimed they suffered mental wounds as well as financial damages as a result of the bilateral agreement. The agreement concerned women who were forced to work as sex slaves during wartime to service Japanese military members in Japanese military brothels. The mental and financial anguish, they claimed, deserve compensation to the amount of 100 million won.

The controversial ruling conceded that the bilateral agreement lacked clarity on many points. It then went on to explain that the governments did not conduct any illegal activity during the agreement procedure and therefore acted in good faith.

Lawyers for the former Korean comfort women claim that the 2015 agreement was unlawful and they plan to file an appeal. Lawyers leaving the courtroom were quoted as saying that the ruling was “not understandable” as it gave legality to the government’s unlawful decision back in 2015.

Lawyers for the women claim that the 2015 bilateral deal between the South Korean and Japanese governments stood in stark contrast to a 2011 South Korea Constitutional Court ruling. That ruling made it unconstitutional for the South Korean government to settle disputes over compensation with the Japanese government on behalf of the former afflicted women. The women claim that only they have the right to negotiate financial settlements with the Japanese government for their forced service.

A Korean civic group is also weighed in on the ruling. The Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan stands opposed to the courts ruling and is pushing for an appeal. The group supported the women in their attempt to extract damages from the Korean government over the controversial 2015 bilateral agreement with Japan.

The 2015 bilateral agreement, the packed at the center of the court’s ruling, forced Japan to apologize for forcing Korean women into sexual slavery during wartime. The ruling also forced the Japanese government to express remorse to the former sexual slaves while providing financial support. The Japanese government set aside ¥1 billion to support the surviving victims, or about $8.8 million USD.

While the deal was hailed as a victory for some of the women, others expressed outrage. Critics of the bilateral agreement point to the fact that the women were not counselled during the negotiations. They say that the voices of the forced sex workers were silenced and ignored. Critics also say that the apology from the Japanese government is not enough at this late date.

The Japanese government forced women from China and Korea into sexual slavery during wartime. The estimated number of Japanese sexual slaves range from 20,000 all the way to 410,000. The women were transported to military comfort stations where soldiers could “relieve themselves” during times of stressful war.

Demonstrations are still held every Wednesday outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, Korea. Former interned women, as well as women’s organizations, participate in the demonstrations which started in 1992. A statue of a young woman was erected in front of the embassy to honor the women which the Japanese government demanded to be taken down. The statue was controversially relocated to the front of the Japanese consulate in Busan, South Korea, in 2017.

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