National

South Korean lawyers representing wartime laborers rebuffed by Nippon Steel in Tokyo

Kyodo

Lawyers representing four South Koreans, recently awarded damages by the country’s top court for wartime labor, were rebuffed Monday when they visited a Japanese steel maker in Tokyo to demand it pay the compensation.

After a request to hold a meeting was rejected by Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp., Kim Se-un, one of the lawyers, told reporters that they will “start procedures to seize” the assets of the Japanese company’s affiliates in South Korea as a way to secure damages.

The lawyers and supporters of the plaintiffs had planned to hand over a document calling on Nippon Steel to comply with the final ruling, which was issued Oct. 30. The South Korean top court ordered the company to pay a total of 400 million won ($350,000) to the four victims who were forced to work during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

The lawyers were greeted by a security guard at reception, who read out a message stating that the company believes the ruling “goes against” the Japanese government’s position that the issue of compensation was settled under a 1965 bilateral accord.

The lawyers gave up on submitting the document and left the building after making another request for a meeting.

“We are disappointed that the company made the security guard, who was not even an employee, read out the statement and turned us away at the door,” Im Jae-song said. He said the assets that the plaintiffs plan to seize will include stocks of Nippon Steel’s related companies.

“Three of the four plaintiffs have already died. We will continue … to call on the company to comply with the ruling as a company in a country ruled by law,” Im added.

The Japanese government has called on Nippon Steel not to comply with the South Korean ruling. The company has not yet clarified its own position.

Naoyoshi Yamamoto, secretary-general of a Japanese group supporting the former laborers in the lawsuit, who accompanied the South Korean lawyers, said, “The plaintiffs’ lives were destroyed by the forced labor. I want the company to face the fact, and offer an apology.”

The newspaper of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party carried an editorial Sunday supporting the South Korean court ruling.

The editorial in the Rodong Sinmum lambasted objections to the ruling by Japanese government officials as “barefaced impudence.”

It is possible that North Korea will in the future push its own demands for compensation for Japanese colonial rule by referring to the same ruling.

The newspaper criticized by name Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has called the Seoul ruling “unbelievable” and indicated that Tokyo could take the case to the International Court of Justice.