BEIJING – A Beijing court has for the first time agreed to hear a lawsuit filed by 40 Chinese demanding compensation from two Japanese firms for forced labor during World War II, their lawyer said.
Kang Jian, an attorney for the plaintiffs, confirmed the decision Tuesday by the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court, which follows several failed efforts to bring such cases in China and Japan.
The move comes in defiance of the Japanese government, which argues such cases are barred by international agreement. .
Chinese courts are controlled by the ruling Communist Party.
“We received a notice from the court that the case has been accepted,” Kang said. “Based on the evidence and the facts at hand, there’s no reason they shouldn’t rule that the companies are responsible,” she added.
Two survivors and 35 people whose relatives were forced laborers filed the suit in late February against Mitsubishi Materials Corp. and Nippon Coke & Engineering Co., formerly known as Mitsui Mining Co.
Kang said Wednesday that an additional three relatives had joined the suit, upping the number of plaintiffs to 40.
The laborers and their relatives are demanding 1 million yuan ($161,000) in compensation for each worker, as well as apologies printed in Chinese and Japanese newspapers.
Tens of thousands of Chinese were forcibly sent to Japan to work in factories and mines to fill a manpower breach arising from Japan’s massive World War II military mobilization.
Japanese courts have rejected numerous similar cases filed there over the years, with the Supreme Court ruling in 2007 that individual Chinese can’t demand compensation from Japan. The top court said China gave up its right to make such claims when the countries normalized relations more than four decades ago.
The Beijing court’s acceptance of the case follows a separate lawsuit filed against both companies as well as the Japanese government earlier this month in Hebei province.
The Tangshan Intermediate People’s Court in Hebei on March 7 rejected the lawsuit filed by a group of 12 former forced laborers and the families of those who have since died. The group is considering refiling the suit after reviewing it.