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Court win for 'comfort women' upheld as Japan declines appeal

Dec. 9, 2023 - 12:07 By Yonhap
Lee Yong-soo, one of the nine registered surviving South Korean victims of sexual slavery by Japan during World War II, raises her hands in a victorious gesture after the appeals court in Seoul ordered Japan to compensate her and other victims, on Nov. 23. (Yonhap)

A recent court victory for South Korean victims of wartime sexual slavery by Japan was confirmed Saturday after Japan decided not to appeal the earlier ruling, sources said.

On Nov. 23, the Seoul High Court overturned a lower court's rejection of a damages suit filed by "comfort women" and ordered Japan to pay 200 million won ($151,780) in compensation to each of the 16 victims.

Japan had two weeks to file an appeal but chose not to do so, according to the sources.

The victims filed the suit in 2016, but the Seoul Central District Court dismissed the case in 2021, citing sovereign immunity, a legal doctrine that allows a state immunity from a civil suit in foreign courts.

Last month, however, the Seoul High Court overturned the lower court's decision and ruled that the defendant must pay the full amount requested by the victims.

The court handed down the ruling on the grounds that, under customary international law, "It is reasonable to recognize the jurisdiction of South Korean courts over the defendant Japanese government."

The court also said at the time that the acts committed by Japan were considered "illegal according to South Korean civil law."

Whether the victims will receive their money is another matter. Unless the Japanese government offers voluntary compensation, the victims will need to identify Japanese assets that can be seized by a court and wage another legal battle.

Tokyo has maintained that it has no obligation to adhere to the ruling by a South Korean court.

In response to Japan's decision not to appeal, an official from Seoul's foreign ministry said Saturday that South Korea "will try to ensure the two countries will remain engaged in future-oriented cooperation."

"Our government has continued to try to restore the honor and dignity of the victims of wartime sexual slavery," the official added.

"We also respect the 2015 agreement reached between the countries on settling the issue of wartime sex slaves. That position has not changed over the years across different administrations." (Yonhap)