GWANGJU, SOUTH KOREA – A South Korean court on Tuesday ordered Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. to pay compensation over forced labor by two women during World War II.
In the latest ruling concerning such practices during the Japanese rule of the Korean Peninsula between 1910 and 1945, the Gwangju District Court directed Mitsubishi to pay 85-year-old Kim Yong-ok and a family member of the late Choi Jong-rye a total of around 123.20 million won (just over ¥12 million).
A string of district courts have ruled in favor of those forced to work for Japanese firms following a landmark May 2012 decision by South Korea’s Supreme Court.
Reversing previous court decisions, the top court ruled that the right of former forced workers and their families to seek withheld wages and compensation was not invalidated by a 1965 Japan-South Korea agreement that Tokyo claims settled all postwar compensation claims, prompting plaintiffs to seek damages in South Korea.
Japan maintains that all individual compensation claims were settled with that treaty, under which South Korea and Japan normalized their relations. Mitsubishi Heavy has argued in the past in court in South Korea that the plaintiffs’ claims should be rejected on this basis.
In the latest case, the plaintiffs said they were forced to work at Mitsubishi Heavy’s factories in places such as Nagoya.
Kim said during the trial that she went to Japan in the hope of “studying and earning money but was deceived,” as she was sent to an airplane manufacturing factory and forced into labor there.
“After the plant was destroyed following the 1944 Tonankai earthquake, I was sent to a factory in Toyama, sustained severe burns during an air raid and suffered for a long time,” she said.
The other plaintiff, Lee Gyong-ja, is the wife of a nephew of Choi, who died after she was crushed under factory rubble during the Tonankai quake.
Lee, 74, said, “I sued because I could not forget how (Choi’s) family had suffered for many years. I want an apology.”