Court orders Tokyo to pay 'comfort women' legal fees

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Court orders Tokyo to pay 'comfort women' legal fees

A Seoul court on Friday ordered Tokyo to reimburse the legal fees of 12 survivors of Japan's wartime sexual slavery who successfully sued the Japanese government for damages, while also commencing the process for the potential appropriation of Japanese government-owned assets in Korea.
 
The 12 plaintiffs and their families filed a request Tuesday for the Seoul Central District Court to draw up a list of the Japanese government properties and funds in Korea, following their successful lawsuit against Korea’s former colonial ruler for compensation related to their wartime suffering.
 
Kim Gang-won, attorney for the plaintiffs, said that should Japan refuse to comply with the court’s compensation order, confiscating the country’s state-owned assets was one way to obtain reimbursement for the plaintiffs, who include former sex slaves of the Japanese military – known as “comfort women” – and their surviving families.
 
The victims, some now deceased, were each awarded 100 million won by the court on Jan. 8 in their lawsuit against the Japanese government for compensation related to their wartime suffering.
 
Japan did not respond to the lawsuit or appeal the decision, citing the principle of sovereign immunity, by which one country is not subject to the decisions of a court in another country.
 
According to the court, Judge Kim Yang-ho ruled on Friday to authorize collection of legal fees from the Japanese government and served public notice of his order to the Japanese authorities.
 
The survivors received legal aid from the Korean government in their lawsuit against Japan. Since the court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, Japan is now also responsible for covering their legal fees, in addition to the damages awarded by the Korean court, and must reimburse the Korean government for the cost of the legal aid provided.
 
While Japan must pay for the costs, whether Japanese state assets in Korea will actually be used to pay damages to the survivors remains an open question.
 
Under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, assets owned by one country in another that are used for diplomatic purposes, such as embassies, are inviolable and cannot be trespassed upon or seized by the host country.
 
Another case filed at the Seoul Central District Court by 20 other surviving victims, the outcome of which will be decided Wednesday, is also being closely watched for similar reasons.
 
A representative for the plaintiffs at the trial said, “Sovereign immunity is not an absolute principle and cannot be applied to serious human rights violations.”  
 
BY MICHAEL LEE   [lee.junhyuk@joongang.co.kr]
 
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