Tokyo may seek ICJ role in claims

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Tokyo may seek ICJ role in claims

A Japanese newspaper said yesterday that Tokyo, watching a wartime damage compensation case now before the Korean Supreme Court, may take the matter to the International Court of Justice if the verdict is upheld. A lower Korean court has ordered Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal and other Japanese corporations that used forced Korean labor during Japan’s colonial rule here to pay compensation to four plaintiffs.

The Sankei Shimbun yesterday reported that officials of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government said that because there was no fault on the Japanese side, the international court in The Hague should adjudicate the matter. Both parties to the dispute would have to agree for that court to assume jurisdiction.

A landmark ruling on July 10 by the Seoul High Court ordered the Japanese steel giant to pay 100 million won ($90,100) in compensation to each of the four Korean plaintiffs for their labor in Japan.

The four went to Japan between 1941 and 1943 after recruiters from Nippon Steel promised satisfactory food, wages, technical training and job stability. They claim they were forced to work with no freedom of movement and with no wages for years.

The Seoul court ruled that the company, along with the Japanese government, “committed crimes against humanity” through its conscription of laborers during World War II. The steelmaker appealed.

Japanese media last week reported that officials at Nippon Steel, which own a 5 percent share of the Korean steel company POSCO, said the company was willing to accept the compensation order if Korea’s Supreme Court upheld it.

In a separate ruling on July 30, the Busan High Court ordered Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to pay the families of five former Korean workers, now deceased, 80 million won each.

The two companies could face a seizure of corporate shares in Korea should the Supreme Court uphold the verdict and the companies refuse to pay.

Japan asserts that individual Koreans lost the right to demand compensation after the conclusion of a treaty with Korea in 1965 that established diplomatic relations between the two nations. The current case raises concerns in Tokyo that it would open the floodgates for more compensation demands, including those by the so-called “comfort women.”

Yesterday was the second anniversary of a key Korean Constitutional Court ruling that said the government’s failure to deal with the issue of sex slaves recruited by the Japanese military during the colonial period was a violation of the constitution. The court ruled that a clause in the 1965 agreement on settlement of claims with Japan leaves room for negotiation when there is a difference of opinion on its interpretation.

Han Hye-jin, the spokeswoman of the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said yesterday, “In accordance with the Constitutional Court decision of Aug. 30, 2011, our government has unilaterally and continuously requested [Tokyo] to abide by the bilateral Korea-Japan compensation agreement [of 1965].”

The Foreign Ministry “strongly requested” Japan to abide by the agreement, expressing “deep regret” that it hasn’t done so yet.

BY SARAH KIM, KANG HYE-RAN [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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