SEOUL – South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Thursday a postwar agreement that led to normalization of diplomatic ties with Japan should not infringe on the rights of Koreans seeking compensation for forced labor during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule.
Despite the agreement, individuals still have a right to make claims against companies, Moon said during a news conference marking his first 100 days in office. He said the precedent had been set by his country’s Constitutional Court and Supreme Court.
Tokyo maintains that issues relating to its rule over the Korean Peninsula, including reparations and claims by individuals, were settled with South Korea under the 1965 treaty.
But over the past few years, a string of court rulings in South Korea have found in favor of forced laborers seeking damages from Japanese firms. The rulings followed a landmark May 2012 decision by the Supreme Court of South Korea.
Reversing previous court decisions, the top court ruled that the 1965 agreement did not invalidate the right of former forced laborers and their families to seek withheld wages and compensation.
In a speech on Tuesday’s National Liberation Day, which marked the 72nd anniversary of the end of Japan’s colonial rule, Moon urged Japanese leaders to be bold and take steps to resolve the issues of forced labor and “comfort women,” a euphemism for women who were forced to work in Japanese wartime military brothels.
“It is necessary for Japanese leaders to take a courageous attitude” in resolving these issues, he said.
Moon’s statements on the forced labor issue stand out from recent administrations, which have not publicly raised the issue.