SEOUL – A South Korean court on Friday rejected a suit filed by 12 former “comfort women” seeking 100 million won (about $91,000) each in damages against the government over a controversial bilateral agreement with Japan.
In the suit filed with the Seoul District Court in 2016, the women demanded that the government compensate them for mental and financial damages they claimed to have suffered as a result of the 2015 agreement to “finally and irreversibly” settle the issue of women who were forced to work in Japan’s wartime military brothels.
In its ruling, the court acknowledged that the agreement is “lacking in clarity on many points.” However, it concluded that in consideration of the process of reaching a bilateral consensus and diplomatic negotiations, it cannot be said that the government conducted illegal activities.
“From today’s ruling, the court has given legality to the government’s decision in 2015, which is not understandable and therefore we will appeal,” said the lawyer for the plaintiffs.
The women criticized the 2015 deal as they believed it goes against a ruling by South Korea’s Constitutional Court in 2011, which said it is unconstitutional for the government to make no tangible efforts to settle disputes with Japan over its refusal to compensate former comfort women.
The plaintiffs filed their suit with the support of the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, a civic group that opposes the agreement.
Under the 2015 deal, Japan apologized and expressed remorse to former comfort women for their suffering and provided ¥1 billion ($8.8 million) to a South Korean foundation to support surviving victims.
The deal, however, has proven controversial among the victims and the South Korean public, with critics saying victims’ voices were ignored and that Japan’s fresh apology over the issue was inadequate.