Court nixes suit by kids of Japanese forced labor victimA lawsuit brought against a Japanese company by relatives of a wartime Korean forced laborer was dismissed by a Seoul district court on Wednesday, which said the statute of limitations for such claims had expired.
Judge Park Seong-in, who presided over the case at the Seoul Central District Court, read the court’s judgement on Wednesday. He said four children of a man surnamed Jeong, who was a victim of forced labor during the Second World War, were not entitled to damages from Nippon Steel.
When he was alive, Jeong said that he was forced to work in a steel mill in Iwate Prefecture, northeastern Japan, between 1940 and 1942. Based on this information, his family filed a lawsuit for damages of about 200 million won ($172,000) in April 2019.
Responding to the court judgement, Nippon Steel said it believes the matter was settled completely under a treaty normalizing relations between Korea and Japan signed in 1965. It added that it sees the ruling as an appropriate judicial decision.
The plaintiffs' lawyer said they will decide whether to appeal after studying the court’s decision.
The ruling follows a similar dismissal by the same court last month. In that case, wartime victims of forced labor filed for damages against Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
Lawsuits over forced wartime labor have been filed since a landmark ruling by the Supreme Court in 2018 ordering Japan's Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal Corp to compensate their Korean workers.
The Japanese government claims that any individual right to claims was settled completely and finally by the 1965 treaty, when Japan paid Korea a lump sum settlement in compensation for its colonial rule.
However, the Supreme Court of Korea ruled in 2018 that the treaty “does not cover the right of the victims of forced labour to seek compensation for crimes against humanity committed by a Japanese company in direct connection with the Japanese government's illegal colonial rule and war of aggression against the Korean peninsula.”
The legal battles escalated into a diplomatic row and Japan has warned Korea against seizing Japanese companies’ assets in Korea to compensate the victims.
In August, Japan warned of "serious" ramifications if a South Korean court ruling was carried out to seize assets of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries as compensation for colonial-era forced labor.
The Supreme Court in 2018 also ordered Mitsubishi Heavy to compensate victims, but the company has not done so.
The Suwon District Court on Aug. 18 approved the seizure of assets of a Korean branch of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
The verdict drew a strong protest from Japan.
"The liquidation of [the company’s assets] would push Japan-South Korea relations into a serious situation. It must be avoided,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters.
BY MICHAEL LEE [email@example.com]