Constitutional Court dismisses conscript suit

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Constitutional Court dismisses conscript suit

The Constitutional Court dismissed Wednesday a complaint, filed by the descendant of a man conscripted into forced labor during the Japanese colonial period, that the 1965 claims settlement between Korea and Japan had violated rights to proper compensation.

The court said Wednesday that it decided not to rule on the case because there was no legal grounds for the petition. It said the 1965 agreement between the governments of Korea and Japan was not a law that directly governs a trial concerning compensation of wartime slavery during the Japanese colonial period.

The case, the longest pending petition at the court until its dismissal, was filed by Lee Yun-jae, 71, on Nov. 11, 2009. Lee is a daughter of Lee Hwa-seop, conscripted by the Japanese government as a construction worker for the military during the colonial period. He died during the conscription.

Lee complained that the agreement prevented her from seeking greater compensation for her late father’s wartime slavery.

Japan colonized Korea from 1910 to 1945, and millions of Koreans were forced into slave labor during the period. Tokyo officially announced in 1990 that 667,648 Koreans had been conscripted into forced labor, but no individual compensation was paid to them.

Seoul and Tokyo signed an Agreement on the Settlement of Problems Concerning Property and Claims and the Economic Cooperation Between Korea and Japan along with the Treaty on Basic Relations Between Korea and Japan on June 22, 1965, when they normalized diplomatic relations. The claims settlement came with more than $800 million in economic aid and loans from Tokyo to Seoul, helping South Korea rebuild from the 1950-53 Korean War.

After the Act on Assistance to Victims of Forced Overseas Mobilization at the Time of the Pacific War was established in 2007, Lee asked the government to pay the 5,828 yen in salary that her father had never received. A government committee decided to pay her 11.65 million won ($9,900) under the law. It converted the value of 1 yen in 1945 to 2,000 won as of 2005.

Lee asked for a re-evaluation, saying that the amount failed to reflect the value of her father’s unpaid salary. After her request was rejected, she brought the case to the Seoul Administrative Court.

During the course of the lawsuit, Lee also filed a complaint to the Constitutional Court that the 1965 claims settlement was unconstitutional. She said the first and third clauses of Article 2 of the agreement were particularly in violation of the constitutional right to property.

The first clause of Article 2 of the agreement states that the two governments confirm that the problems concerning property, rights and interests of the two countries and their peoples, and the claims between the two countries and between their peoples have been settled “completely and finally.”

Article 2’s third clause also stated that no claims shall be made for matters arising from the cases that occurred prior to the date of the agreement.

“The bilateral accord was never meant to serve as a standard for individual claims, so the court concluded that it cannot be used for a trial that would judge the reasonableness of compensation amount,” said a Constitutional Court official, explaining the decision to dismiss Lee’s petition. “This doesn’t mean that the agreement is constitutional.”

Lee also filed a complaint that the Act on Assistance to Victims of Forced Overseas Mobilization at the Time of the Pacific War was unconstitutional for its unreasonable standards.

“The gold price in 2000 was 140,000 times higher than that in 1945, and the rice price was 474,206 times higher,” she said in her petition. “The law prevented proper calculation of compensation, thus violating the right to property.”

While dismissing her challenge on the 1965 agreement, the Constitutional Court ruled Wednesday that the law governing assistance to forced labor victims and their families is constitutional.

“The assistance was in the form of special dispensations given to the victims and their families for humanitarian purposes,” the court ruled.

“Limiting the beneficiaries to Korean citizens or incomplete standards to calculate the payments cannot be seen as arbitrary or in violation of the principle of equality.”

Of the nine justices, six ruled that the law was constitutional while three said it was not.

Lee and surviving relatives of other victims of wartime slavery expressed disappointment with the Constitutional Court’s decision.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Wednesday that it has no plan to make a comment.

“The dismissal was made based on the proceedings of the court, and we have no comment,” a ministry official said.

The first clause of Article 2 of the agreement was particularly sensitive, as Tokyo has cited it to argue that compensation for the comfort women, or women forced into wartime sexual slavery, was already settled. Seoul has argued that the comfort women issue amounts to a crime against humanity and the agreement does not cover it.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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