The Tokyo District Court on Friday rejected a compensation lawsuit over the state’s refusal to give unpaid wages to the relatives of Korean laborers forced to work in Japan during World War II.

The lawsuit was filed by the families of four Korean forced laborers who died at Japan Iron & Steel Co.’s Kamaishi plant in Iwate Prefecture during an air raid in 1945. The firm is now called Nippon Steel Corp.

The families had sought damages of 20 million yen per worker in response to a refusal to pay the wages by the Morioka Regional Legal Affairs Bureau, which had been entrusted with the unpaid wages.

Presiding Judge Yosuke Ichimura said that domestic laws based on a 1965 agreement between Japan and South Korea had the effect of terminating the property rights of Korean nationals.

“As a result, the rejection (by the regional legal affairs bureau) was legal,” he concluded.

The families had discovered through company documents that a total of about 9,500 yen in wages had not been paid to the deceased and had been placed in trust.

They asked the legal affairs bureau for the money in 1997, but were denied on the grounds that their right to claim it had expired with the 1965 treaty.

Under the treaty, signed by the two countries with other bilateral agreements that normalized diplomatic ties, Japan gave $500 million in economic assistance to South Korea in exchange for an agreement from Seoul that all individual claims dating to before the end of World War II would be terminated.

An official at the Justice Ministry’s Civil Affairs Bureau said the ruling recognized the state’s position on the matter.

The same families are also taking part in a separate lawsuit filed in 1995, in which the relatives of 11 Korean forced laborers at Kamaishi sought damages from the state and Nippon Steel.

The steel giant agreed to an out-of-court settlement in which it paid a total of roughly 20 million yen to the plaintiffs as “condolence” money. However, in 2003 the Tokyo District Court rejected the plaintiffs’ demand for compensation from the state, and they are appealing the ruling to a higher court.

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