The Tokyo High Court on Tuesday upheld a lower court decision denying Chinese plaintiffs compensation for germ warfare atrocities committed in China by the Imperial Japanese Army during the war.
The lawsuit, filed in 1997 and 1999 by a combined 180 plaintiffs — survivors and relatives of deceased victims — had demanded 10 million yen in damages for each plaintiff and an apology from the Japanese government.
The plaintiffs charged that the Imperial army’s infamous Unit 731 spread fleas infected with bubonic plague among the populace and gave them food and water laced with cholera, killing many civilians.
In August 2002, the Tokyo District Court recognized for the first time that Imperial army units, including 731, engaged in germ warfare, and that the state was responsible. However, the court dismissed the compensation demands, ruling that individuals have no right to sue for war damages. The plaintiffs appealed to the high court.
On Tuesday, presiding Judge Yukio Ota acknowledged that the Imperial army violated the Geneva protocol, which prohibited use of bacterial weapons, and caused many deaths by spreading the bacteria between 1940 and 1942.
But he supported the district court ruling and said international laws have clarified international responsibilities between countries and “do not give individual victims the right to demand direct compensation.”
The plaintiffs and their lawyers said they plan to appeal to the Supreme Court.
At a later news conference, lawyer Koken Tsuchiya slammed the ruling, saying it basically condones wars of aggression and the government’s refusal to take responsibility for waging germ warfare.
The ruling shows “the court is submitting to the government,” he said. “But the legislative, administrative and judicial powers are kept separate so they can keep an eye on each other.”
Zhang Lizhong, a plaintiff who lost four family members to the plague, was angered by the decision.
“This ruling is completely unfair to the victims,” said the 73-year-old from Hunan Province. “And I will fight until the end.”
Tsuchiya said the government has continuously refused to acknowledge it waged germ warfare in China and even denied the existence of Unit 731 throughout the district and high court hearings.
Chemical gas cleanup
Japan will remove chemical weapons in Guangzhou, southern China, that were abandoned by the Japanese Imperial Army at the end of World War II, following a poison gas accident in the city in June, the Cabinet Office said Tuesday.
The Cabinet Office plans to excavate weapons in a five-day mission starting Wednesday after officials found at least seven more abandoned shells near the accident site.