OSAKA – The Osaka District Court has dismissed a damages lawsuit filed by relatives of Koreans who were in Hiroshima or Nagasaki at the time of the atomic bombings in 1945, citing the statute of limitations.
The court’s decision on Wednesday backed the government’s stance that relatives can no longer seek redress from Tokyo if they failed to file a lawsuit within 20 years of their family members’ deaths.
About 150 relatives of 31 Koreans who were affected by the atomic bombings during World War II claimed it was illegal for the central government to deny payments for health care and other allowances because the victims were no longer living in Japan.
The plaintiffs’ court challenge came more than 20 years after their relatives died in South Korea between 1975 and 1995, each demanding compensation of around ¥1.2 million ($11,000).
Under the support law for atomic bomb survivors — known as hibakusha — victims can receive help with medical expenses and other subsidies. But hibakusha abroad were excluded from the redress until 2003, when the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry changed its policy.
The central government also started paying compensation to overseas survivors and bereaved family members, including those who requested the payment more than 20 years after the deaths of their relatives, after the state was ordered by the Supreme Court in 2007 to pay compensation to former Korean forced laborers who were exposed to radiation in Hiroshima.
But Tokyo changed its stance again in the fall of 2016 and started denying payments in cases that fell outside the 20-year threshold, citing the statute of limitations under the Civil Code. Wednesday’s district court’s ruling supported the state’s about-face, calling the past compensation to 175 bereaved relatives a “careless mistake.”
“It’s extremely unjust that the government suddenly refused to take responsibility,” Yasuhisa Nagashima, head of the plaintiffs’ defense counsel, said after the ruling.
Acknowledging the difficulty of clearing the hurdle set by the statute of limitations, Nagashima said the defense team will “carefully” consult with the plaintiffs on whether to appeal.
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