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Landmark Ruling: South Korean Court Orders Japan to Compensate ‘Comfort Women’

A South Korean appellate court issued a verdict in favor of the ‘comfort women,’ directing Japan to redress a collective of 16 women compelled into service in Japanese wartime brothels. This decision marks a reversal of a preceding dismissal by a lower court.

Historical Verdict

The historical repercussions of Japan’s 1910-45 colonial dominion over the Korean peninsula persist as a contentious and politically delicate matter for both nations. Many surviving ‘comfort women,’ victims of sexual abuse, persist in seeking not only Tokyo’s formal apology but also due compensation.

Japan’s foreign ministry maintained silence, offering no immediate response to the appellate court’s decree. Bilateral relations between the two U.S. allies have, over the years, faced tension rooted in issues of wartime sexual abuse and forced labor. Nevertheless, the current leaders, President Yoon Suk Yeol of South Korea and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan, strive for amelioration.

The lawsuit, initiated by 16 victims in 2016, sought 200 million won ($155,000) each in compensation. However, the Seoul Central District Court dismissed the case in 2021, invoking sovereign immunity—a legal principle shielding a state from civil suits in foreign courts.

Persistent Strain in Bilateral Relations

In a pivotal turn, the Seoul High Court overturned the lower court’s ruling, acknowledging the jurisdiction of South Korean courts over the Japanese government as the accused party. The appellate court contended that a shared international law should disregard state immunity for an unlawful act, irrespective of its sovereign nature.

The court further asserted that the case lies within South Korea’s jurisdiction, considering the residency of the plaintiffs and their pursuit of compensation for acts deemed ‘unlawful’ under its civil law.

Contrary to this legal development, Tokyo insists that the matter found resolution through a 1965 treaty normalizing diplomatic relations, with a purportedly irreversible end to the dispute in a 2015 agreement.

The South Korean foreign ministry is presently scrutinizing the intricacies of the recent ruling without offering specific details.

Lee Yong-soo, a 95-year-old activist and plaintiff, expressed gratitude for the court’s decision, tearfully thanking the judicial body. She voiced a profound sense of gratitude and lamented her inability to share the news with fellow victims who have since passed away.

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