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Japanese court rejects compensation claims over Battle of Okinawa

JIJI

The Naha District Court on Wednesday rejected damages claims filed against the government by 79 plaintiffs, mainly families of local residents who died during the Battle of Okinawa in the last phase of World War II.

Turning down the petition for apologies and compensation payments of ¥11 million each, presiding Judge Hiroshi Suzuki said that no law existed at that time that would hold the government responsible for damages caused by the exercise of public power.

It was the first ruling on a lawsuit filed by local residents for state compensation over the Battle of Okinawa, the largest ground battle in Japan during the war. In the battle, about a quarter of the local citizens of Okinawa are said to have died.

The plaintiffs plan to appeal the ruling to a higher court.

At a news conference in Naha, Shigeru Zukeyama, head of the group of lawyers for the plaintiffs, criticized the court’s decision as “a very unjust ruling.”

“We wanted the court to face squarely the damage of the Battle of Okinawa,” he said.

“Such a result is unbelievable,” Chieko Nozato, 79, leader of the plaintiffs, said. “We wanted a considerate ruling.”

Noting that the former Imperial Japanese military set up a headquarters in Shuri, an urban area of Naha, where U.S. military attacks could easily be foreseen, the plaintiffs insisted that the government had “breached the duty to protect its nationals.”

They also claimed that it was illegal for the government not to establish a law to support those not covered by the current relief law.

Based on the 1952 law, local residents who offered shelter or delivered goods to the Japanese military during the war are eligible for compensation from the government, as well as members of the military. According to the complaint, however, nearly 40,000 residents are not covered by the law.

The lawyers for the plaintiffs submitted to the court medical certificates from 37 plaintiffs suffering from mental damage, including post-traumatic stress disorder, caused by the war.

At a news conference in Tokyo after the ruling, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said, “We must not forget the history of hardship that Okinawa went through in the tragic ground war,” while noting that the government’s claims had been accepted.

Previously, people affected by U.S. air raids on Tokyo and Osaka during WWII and the families of such victims had filed unsuccessful damages suits against the government, claiming that it has failed to help and compensate them.