Posted: October 30, 2018 8:00 AM Updated: October 30, 2018 8:47 pm
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – In a potentially far-reaching decision, the Supreme Court of South Korea has ruled that. A major Japanese steelmaker should to compensate four South Koreans for forced labor during the Korean Peninsula's colonial rule before the end of World War II.
The long-awaited verdict, delivered Tuesday after more than five years of deliberations before the Seoul Supreme Court, could have major consequences for similar lawsuits pending in South Korea, and is likely to spark diplomatic strife between Asian US Allies trigger.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tokyo will "resolutely" respond to the verdict he described as "impossible in the face of international law." He said the ruling violated a 1
"Today's ruling by the South Korean Supreme Court has unilaterally and fundamentally damaged the legal foundations of Japan-South Korea relations," Kono said.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in had no immediate reaction to the verdict. South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Noh Kyu-duk said Tokyo and Seoul "should gain wisdom" to prevent the decision from affecting their relationships.
The court said the Japanese Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. would have to make a compensation of 100 million won ($ 87,680) to each of the four claimants who had to work in Japanese steelworks from 1941 to 1943. Among them, only 94-year-old Lee Chun-sik has survived the nearly 14-year legal battle.
"I won the case, but I'm here alone, so I'm sad, there are lots of tears coming," Lee told reporters after his decision. "It would have been good if we were still completely here."
The court dismissed Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal's stance that compensation for forced labor was regulated by the 1965 treaty. The court also dismissed the company's argument that it was a different entity than the steelmaker that forced the South Koreans to work during the war. The current company, one of the world's largest steel producers, emerged after the war from the merger of several companies.
Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal called the verdict "deeply regrettable" and said it will "carefully consider" the court's decision, considering its next steps and taking into account the "Japanese government's responses to this matter and other factors".
The fierce historical quarrels between Seoul and Tokyo, including the problems with South Korean women forced into sexual slavery in the war, have complicated Washington's efforts to strengthen trilateral cooperation to tackle North Korea's nuclear threat and China's growing influence of the region.
President Moon, who once represented South Korean forced laborers as a lawyer in the 2000s, said after taking office last year, the 1965 contract could not prevent individuals from claiming their rights to damages. In the past, both governments have stated that the problem of forced labor compensation was regulated by the Treaty.
Moon also questioned the validity of a 2015 agreement with Japan that had negotiated the former Conservative Government of South Korea to compensate the forced South Korean women in the sexual slavery of the Japanese military Many South Koreans believe that Seoul was in the agreement far too little, and called for the dissolution of a Seoul-based foundation to support the victims with a Japanese-provided fund of 1 billion yen (US $ 9 million).
Tokyo claims The $ 500 million Japan had provided to South Korea under the 1965 treaty should settle all wartime compensation issues on a permanent basis. However, the Supreme Court ruled in a ruling on Tuesday that the treaty does not terminate individuals' rights to compensation for the "inhuman illegal" experiences they were forced to undergo.
Kim Jin-young, an activist from a group representing South Korean forced labor victims The verdict is likely to impact the results of more than a dozen similar lawsuits pending at local courts, including a case against Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, who is now at the Supreme Court. The ruling could also lead to further complaints by South Korean victims or their families against Japanese companies accused of exploiting forced labor.
"There are likely to be more obstacles before the victims receive compensation," Kim said. "The lawsuit may strike a location in a third country, and storing the assets of companies in South Korea could also be a lengthy and difficult process if they continue to refuse to pay the victims."
The four plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal in the Seoul District Court in 2005 after two of them lost a similar lawsuit in Japan. The Supreme Court annulled in 2012 the decisions of lower courts that denied the plaintiffs and referred the case back to the Seoul Supreme Court, which ruled in 2013 that the company compensated the plaintiffs with 100 million won each.
Tuesday's verdict came more than five years after the company filed an appeal against the High Court's ruling in August 2013.
AP author Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.