The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a lawsuit by Koreans who sought disability pensions for wounds suffered during World War II, when they were forced to serve with the Imperial Japanese forces.
The Koreans’ claim was rejected by two lower courts on the grounds that they no longer held Japanese citizenship, even though they had been conscripted as Japanese citizens from the Korean Peninsula during Japan’s colonial rule.
The plaintiffs, Sok Song Gi, 79, a resident of Yokohama, and the family of Chin Sok Il, who died in 1994 while the suit was in progress, appealed to the Supreme Court, demanding that the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry cancel its decision not to pay them the pension.
Three similar cases on claims by Koreans who served in Japan’s military during the war are currently before the Supreme Court, which in 1992 rejected a similar lawsuit filed by Taiwanese who served in the Japanese military during the war.
The focal point of Thursday’s suit was whether a 1952 law that excludes Korean residents in Japan from entitlement to war disability pensions runs against the Constitution. Japan stripped Koreans of their Japanese citizenship shortly after the war.
Presiding Justice Kazutomo Ijima said it was “undeniable that a state of discrimination between Japanese and Korean residents in Japan had emerged” as a result of the law, but noted that the law could still not be called unconstitutional.
The plaintiffs, who served in the Imperial Japanese Navy as civilian workers, claim the payment rejection goes against Article 14 of the Constitution, which guarantees equality under the law.
Near the end of the war, Sok was wounded during a U.S. bombing when he was engaged in airport construction on the Marshall Islands, and Chin was wounded off Borneo. As a result of his injuries, Sok’s right arm was amputated. Chin lost his left leg.
“During the war, I was used as an Imperial Japanese citizen. When the war ended, Japan deprived me of my Japanese nationality,” said Sok, who remains partially paralyzed due to the injury.
The two claimed the disability pension in 1991, but their claims were rejected by the Health Ministry.
They then went to court, and the Tokyo District Court dismissed their suit in July 1994, saying the law was constitutional.
The plaintiffs appealed to the Tokyo High Court, which in September 1998 rejected their claim. However, the high court urged the government to create a new law on such pensions, saying there are doubts about the constitutionality of the current law, adding the “irreproachable plaintiffs” were left unassisted.
Following the Tokyo High Court’s proposal, the Diet passed a law last year to offer condolence money for foreign nationals who died or suffered injury while serving in the Japanese military.
It provides for a “condolence” payment of 4 million yen to those seriously injured, or 2.6 million yen to relatives of the dead.
However, critics say the amount to be paid under the new law is too small compared with those paid for Japanese veterans, who have received 80 million yen on average plus a lifelong pension for a similar disability under the 1952 law.
The Public Management, Home Affairs, Post and Telecommunications Ministry began accepting applications for the condolence money this week, and estimates it will receive 2,000 to 3,000 applications over the next three years.
Sok has reportedly told his acquaintances that he was dissatisfied with the recent legislation, and was pinning his hopes on the Supreme Court to eliminate the gap in the treatment of Japanese veterans and foreigners who fought as Japanese.
In Thursday’s decision, Justice Takehisa Fukazawa attached a supplementary opinion saying the legislation is still insufficient to make up for the discriminatory treatment of Koreans.
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