Wednesday, January 19, 2005

High court awards damages to conscripted WWII Korean laborers

TOKYO — The Hiroshima High Court on Wednesday ordered the state to pay damages to South Koreans forced to work as conscript laborers in Hiroshima during World War II, reversing a lower court ruling.

Forty South Koreans had demanded 11 million yen each from the state and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd for being forced to work at a Mitsubishi factory in the city of Hiroshima and for being exposed to radiation from the atomic bomb dropped by the United States on Aug 6, 1945.

Of the 40 plaintiffs, 25 have died, with relatives carrying on the court battle.

The Hiroshima District Court rejected the suit in March 1999. At that time, the 40 plus six others were plaintiffs. The six did not appeal to the high court.

The high court ruling has been a focus of interest as this year marks the 60th anniversary of the end of the war.

Also behind the interest are ongoing issues concerning measures for overseas A-bomb survivors after the war and whether to provide unpaid wages to forced laborers given the argument that the right to compensation lapsed with an agreement between Japan and South Korea.

Forced laborers from the Korean Peninsula, which Japan ruled as a colony, have not been successful in Japanese courts compared with forced laborers from China.

The Hiroshima District Court acknowledged that conscripted labor was conducted using state authority during the war but said, "The state does not have a responsibility to pay compensation for events committed under the prewar Constitution even if an individual suffers damage as a result of the actions of the state."

Regarding the suit against Mitsubishi, the district court said the rights for compensation "had lapsed by the statute of limitations."

According to the ruling, the South Koreans were forcibly taken from Korea to Hiroshima in 1944 and forced to work for Mitsubishi. They returned to South Korea on their own after the end of the war.

The suit was originally filed by six people in December 1995 and 40 more joined in August 1996.

About 2,800 people from South Korea were forced to work in Hiroshima, many of them suffering from the A-bomb. (Kyodo News)