SEOUL, April 21 (Xinhua) -- A South Korean court on Wednesday ruled against the South Korean sex slavery victims during World War II demanding damages from the Japanese government, contradicting a ruling rendered by the same court three months earlier.
A judge at the Seoul Central District Court dismissed the case brought by 20 wartime sex enslavement victims, euphemistically called "comfort women," and their bereaved families, citing a sovereign immunity that allows a state to be immune from civil suit in foreign courts.
The court ruled that if any exception of the sovereign immunity is accepted, a diplomatic conflict can be inevitable, saying the 2015 agreement, reached by South Korea and Japan, met diplomatic requirements though opinion was not collected from the victims in the process of negotiations.
Seoul and Tokyo agreed in December 2015 to "finally and irreversibly" settle the issue on Korean women, who were forced into sexual slavery for the Imperial Japan's military brothels under the 1910-45 Japanese colonization of the Korean Peninsula.
A Japan-funded foundation for the comfort women was launched in Seoul in July 2016, but it was dissolved three years later under harsh criticism from the victims and civic activists who demanded sincere apology and legal responsibility of the Japanese government.
The Seoul court's ruling was in a stark contrast to the verdict handed down by a different judge at the same court, which ordered the Japanese government in January to pay reparations of 100 million won (about 90,000 U.S. dollars) to each of 12 plaintiffs.
The 12 plaintiffs filed a petition for dispute settlement with a court in August 2013, but the damages claim suit was referred to the Seoul court in January 2016 as the Japanese government declined to officially receive the civil case petition. The first hearing was held in April 2020.
When the Seoul court ruled in favor of the 12 victims, it said the sovereign immunity cannot be applied to the case as the illegal acts, which the plaintiffs suffered from, were crimes against humanity committed by the Imperial Japan deliberately, widely and systematically.
Lee Yong-soo, one of the few surviving South Korean comfort women victims and also one of the 20 plaintiffs who lost the damages claim suit against the Japanese government, was quoted by local media as saying the ruling was "ridiculous."
The 92-year-old in wheelchair told reporters, "All I can say is 'let's take the case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).'"
"Today's ruling is a major disappointment that fails to deliver justice to the remaining survivors of this military slavery system and to those who suffered these atrocities before and during WWII but had already passed away, as well as their families," Arnold Fang, Amnesty International's East Asia researcher, said in a statement.
"More than 70 years have passed since the end of WWII, and we cannot overstate the urgency for the Japanese government to stop depriving these survivors of their rights to full reparation and to provide an effective remedy within their lifetimes," Fang noted.
In South Korea, the number of surviving wartime sex slavery victims was only 15 among the 240 officially registered with the government.
Historians say hundreds of thousands of Asian women, mostly from China and the Korean Peninsula, were kidnapped, coerced or duped into sexual servitude for Japanese troops before and during the Pacific War.