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EDITORIAL | Seoul Court's Comfort Women Ruling is Unlawful and Unacceptable

The court ignored the facts, previous settlements, and international law as it sought to bypass the Seoul government to punish Japan in the comfort women saga.



Former Korean comfort woman Lee Yong-soo, lawyer Lee Sang-hee and supporters hold a press conference on November 23 in Seoul. (©Kyodo News)

It is a verdict so unjust we couldn't believe our ears when we heard the news. The South Korean High Court has accepted the claim of a group representing former "comfort women" demanding compensation ー again ー for damages from the Japanese government.

The court determined that the comfort women were "forcibly abducted by the Japanese government." This assertion has no basis in fact and is categorically unacceptable. 

Lee Yong-soo, a Korean former comfort woman who is the plaintiff, immediately after the November 23 ruling at the Seoul High Court on November 23 (©Kyodo)

More Claims for More Money

The lawsuit in question was filed by a total of 16 former Korean comfort women and their families. It sought ₩200 million KW (roughly ¥23 million JPY, or $150,000 USD) per person in damages from the government of Japan. 

Based on the "principle of sovereign immunity" the Japanese government has not responded to the lawsuit and did not participate in the trial. Under international law, a sovereign state is not subject to the jurisdiction of courts in a foreign state. Japan's decision was perfectly appropriate. 

The Seoul Central District Court, the court of first instance, had dismissed the plaintiffs' suit. It ruled that the claim for compensation from a foreign government did not meet the requirements for a lawsuit based on the principle of sovereign immunity. That was a correct decision. 

However, the Seoul High Court overruled the lower court decision and ordered the Japanese government to pay the full amount of the plaintiffs' claim. It said that "there is an international practice of not recognizing sovereign immunity for illegal acts." 

Members of the South Korean group Women Against Comfort Women Fraud. They are in Berlin demanding the removal of a comfort women statue. (©JAPAN Forward by Kenji Yoshida)

Based on Debunked Facts

Even if that was the case, the Japanese government did not carry out the alleged illegal acts. We cannot allow such flagrant distortion of the facts in this case. Investigations and empirical studies have debunked the "forced recruitment" theory. That theory purported to say that women were systematically taken away and made to work as comfort women. 

To begin with, all issues between Japan and South Korea in regard to claims were resolved under the " settlement of claims and economic cooperation agreement" that accompanied the 1965 treaty on Basic Relations that normalized diplomatic relations between the two countries. 


Furthermore, it should not be forgotten that this issue was again settled in 2015. That is when the Japanese and South Korean governments confirmed the comfort women issue was "resolved finally and irreversibly." If former comfort women are dissatisfied, that problem should be reconciled within South Korea.

If the plaintiffs prevail, the Japanese government's assets in South Korea may be subject to seizure or other enforcement actions. That would be a gross violation of Japan's sovereignty.

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa speaks during the 10th trilateral foreign ministers' meeting in Busan, South Korea, Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023. (©Ahn Young-joon/Pool via REUTERS)

Reaction in Japan

The Japanese government has said that the Seoul High Court's decision is "absolutely unacceptable." It has protested to South Korea. 

Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa promptly issued a statement. It read in part, "Japan once again strongly urges the Republic of Korea to immediately take appropriate measures to remedy the status of its breaches of international law on its own responsibility as a country." 

Kamikawa visited South Korea from November 25, where she met with her South Korean counterpart. Was her demand that South Korea make an effective response strong enough? 

South Korea cannot be considered a responsible nation if it allows its judiciary to run wild while flouting the facts and international law. If it condones such behavior, distrust of South Korea will only spread throughout the international community. 


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun


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