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South Korean court declines to rule on Japanese forced labor agreement

Kyodo, AP

A South Korean court on Wednesday refused to issue a judgment on the constitutionality of the 1965 Korea-Japan agreement that Japan uses to deny individual compensation to victims of forced labor during Japan’s colonial rule of Korea.

South Korea’s Constitutional Court said it is not in a position to rule on such matters, and that the accord was never meant to serve as a standard for providing individual compensation.

The case has been pending in court for six years since the daughter of a man who had died as a result of forced labor with Japanese companies filed a constitutional appeal in late 2009.

The complainant has argued that Article 2, Clause 1 of the 1965 Claims Settlement Agreement, which says the problems concerning property, rights and interest of individuals have been settled completely, is unconstitutional.

Japan maintains its stand that all issues concerning wartime reparations were “completely and finally” settled with the 1965 treaty.

As a result, Korean people who were forced laborers during the war have been denied individual compensation. Instead, Japan paid South Korea $500 million as a form of economic compensation.

In a landmark decision in May 2012 that reversed previous lower court decisions, the South Korean Supreme Court ruled that the right of former forced laborers and their families to seek withheld wages and compensation was not invalidated by the 1965 treaty.

The Supreme Court returned to lower courts two cases involving Koreans forcibly taken to Japan to work in Japanese factories.

The highest court’s ruling prompted South Korean lower courts to order some Japanese companies to compensate their former employees.

Although the South Korean court has no binding powers regarding international agreements, Seoul could have been obligated to seek a new deal with Tokyo had the court ruled the treaty unconstitutional, analysts said. The decision, however, won’t likely stop lawsuits by South Koreans seeking compensation from the Japanese government and businesses, they said.