HIROSHIMA – The Hiroshima High Court reversed a lower court ruling and told the government Wednesday to pay a combined 48 million yen in damages to 40 South Korean plaintiffs affected by the 1945 U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima while performing slave labor during the war.
The court said the state should pay 1.2 million yen to each of the plaintiffs as an “allowance.” The plaintiffs had demanded that the state and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. pay them in the form of compensation and unpaid wages, but the court dismissed the demand, citing the statute of limitations.
The court determined that the government is liable for financially supporting A-bomb survivors even if they are abroad, saying a 1974 decree by the then Health and Welfare Ministry limiting the eligible survivors to those living in Japan is against the law.
The plaintiffs had demanded a total of 440 million yen, or 11 million yen each, from the state and MHI for being forced to work at a Mitsubishi factory in Hiroshima and for being exposed to radiation from the atomic bomb, which was dropped on Aug. 6, 1945.
Of the 40 plaintiffs, 25 are now dead and relatives have carried on the court battle.
The Hiroshima District Court rejected the suit in March 1999. There were six other plaintiffs at that time, but they did not file an appeal.
The high court ruling has drawn special interest as this year marks the 60th anniversary of the end of the war.
The issues of support for overseas A-bomb survivors and whether to provide unpaid wages to forced laborers are still being debated, given the argument that the right to redress lapsed once an agreement was reached between Japan and South Korea.
Forced laborers from the Korean Peninsula, which Japan forcibly annexed in 1910, 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 that occurred under the prewar Constitution even if an individual has suffered injuries as a result of the actions of the state.”
Regarding the suit against Mitsubishi, the district court said the right to compensation “had lapsed with the statute of limitations.”
According to the court, the South Koreans were forcibly taken from Korea to Hiroshima in 1944 and made 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 atomic bombing.
In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda told a news conference that the ruling “is very severe to the government” and that it will decide what steps to take after examining it further.
MHI meanwhile released a statement saying it basically welcomes the ruling because the court held only the state responsible and dismissed the plaintiff’s demand for compensation from the firm.