The Tokyo District Court turned down a lawsuit Friday filed by three survivors of a 1932 massacre by Imperial Japanese Army troops in Liaoning Province, China.

The two men and one woman were between 4 and 9 years old at the time of the incident and were seeking 20 million yen each in compensation from the Japanese government.

They claimed they lost family members and experienced brutality at the hands of the army in a suburb of Fushun on Sept. 16, 1932.

Presiding Judge Yoichi Kikuchi recognized as fact that the Imperial forces committed a massacre. This is the first such acknowledgment in Japanese judicial history.

Nevertheless, Kikuchi supported the government’s claim that under the prewar and wartime legal systems, the government had no obligation to pay damages in regard to the exercise of state power. The plaintiffs — 79-year-old Yang Baoshan, 74-year-old Fang Surong, and 76-year-old Mo Deisheng — plan to appeal the ruling. According to the plaintiffs, the Imperial Japanese Army rounded up 3,000 local residents and executed most of them, suspecting they were collaborating with Chinese guerrillas fighting against Japan.

All three lost their families in the massacre. They said they were also shot and bayoneted by Japanese soldiers, but they managed to survive by pretending to be dead.

The three came to Japan and told the court they still suffer when they think of the people they knew who were killed in the wanton cruelty, calling on the government to pay legitimate damages.

In rejecting their claims, Kikuchi determined that an international convention cited by the plaintiffs in their compensation demand “cannot be interpreted as giving individuals the right to seek damages from government authorities.”

Lawyers for the plaintiffs said it was significant that the court had at least recognized the massacre by the Imperial Japanese Army. However, Yang said that the court, in not ordering any compensation, effectively failed to recognize what Japan had done.

“What I want is not compensation or a court ruling to that effect, but for the Japanese government to recognize the facts and apologize,” Yang told reporters. “Seventy years have passed since the massacre, and the three of us, who miraculously survived, will eventually die. But we will demand an apology through our grandchildren’s generation.”

According to legal sources, about 60 damages suits have been filed in Japan by foreigners for wartime suffering, but only four have won lower court decisions.

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