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Japan Ordered to Compensate 3 Sex Slaves

Law: Judge says government must pay $2,272 to the World War II 'comfort women' from South Korea. One victim demands an apology.

April 28, 1998|From Times Wire Services

TOKYO — In the first judgment of its kind, a Japanese court ruled Monday that the government must pay compensation to three South Korean women who were forced to provide sex to Japanese soldiers during World War II.

In handing down the ruling, Judge Hideaki Chikashita of the Yamaguchi District Court in southern Japan said that Tokyo had neglected to fulfill its legal duty to repair the anguish suffered by the "comfort women," who were forced to work in brothels for Japan's former Imperial Army.

In his surprisingly sharp ruling, Chikashita called the army's actions an example of sexual and ethnic discrimination and a "fundamental violation of human rights."

The court ordered the Japanese government to pay $2,272 to each plaintiff.

At a news conference after the judgment, one of the plaintiffs, 79-year-old Lee Sun Dok, demanded a "proper apology and compensation," calling the amount an insult to women "who were treated lower than human beings."

Seita Yamamoto, an attorney for the three women, said he will appeal for more money. "From the defendants' viewpoint, [the award] is not enough. Some are outraged," he said.

Koken Tsuchiya, one of a group of lawyers working to get Japan's parliament to pass a law paving the way for compensation, called the judge's decision "very unusual and encouraging."

"The Japanese government has as much as admitted that the women were forced to serve against their will, but it has always avoided paying compensation," he said, adding that he was disappointed at the amount the court ordered in its ruling.

Human rights groups in Japan and abroad hailed the landmark ruling and said they hoped it would open the door to more substantial solutions of the issue.

Government spokesman Kanezo Muraoka called the ruling "regrettable." Both the Japanese Foreign Ministry in Tokyo and the Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry in Seoul declined to comment until the ruling is studied.

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The Japanese government has long refused to pay direct compensation to any of the women, saying that all claims were settled by peace treaties that formally ended the war.

Instead, Japan has paid $760,000 to former sex slaves through a privately funded organization so that it could skirt admitting official responsibility.

Many women have refused to accept money from the fund, which they say reflects Japan's failure to show remorse for its wartime actions.

Monday's case was part of a larger one that included seven women who filed for compensation and a public apology for forced labor in a munitions factory. The court rejected their claims.

Historians estimate that 200,000 women were forced to provide sex for Japan's former Imperial Army, with a majority of them from the Korean peninsula, which was at that time a Japanese colony.

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