Seoul – A South Korean appeals court has set the first hearing of a “comfort women” case for Nov. 25, after a lower court dismissed in April a damages lawsuit brought against Japan by women who suffered under Japan’s military brothel system before and during World War II.
The Seoul High Court has set May 26, 2022, for a ruling on the case, a notice posted on its website said, but the date could change depending on how any trial proceeds. The Japanese government has declined to be a party in the lawsuit and is expected to remain uninvolved during the next phase of the trial.
The former comfort women and their bereaved families appealed the Seoul Central District Court ruling, which in dismissing their case had determined that South Korea has no jurisdiction over the case under international law.
A separate but similar lawsuit against the Japanese government had a different result. In January, the same district court, but under a different panel of judges, ordered the Japanese government to pay damages to 12 former comfort women and their bereaved families.
The court rejected the application of “sovereign immunity” — the concept under international law that a state is immune from the jurisdiction of a court in a foreign country — and determined that the Japanese government had committed “intentional, systematic and wide-ranging criminal acts against humanity” by making the women work at military brothels.
The January ruling was finalized without appeal by the Japanese government.
The Seoul High Court has scheduled three hearings between November and March ahead of the planned May 2022 ruling.
Japan has taken the position that all claims related to its 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula were settled “completely and finally” under a 1965 bilateral agreement under which it provided financial aid to South Korea.
But as bilateral ties remained sour over the comfort women issue, the two countries in 2015 struck a deal meant to “finally and irreversibly” resolve the long-running dispute.
Under the agreement, the Japanese government contributed ¥1 billion ($9 million) to a foundation set up in South Korea. The funds were then distributed to former comfort women and the families of those who died. However, some women refused to accept the money, calling instead for an official apology and compensation from Japan. The foundation was dissolved in 2019 after the administration of South Korean President Moon Jae-in concluded that the deal, reached under a previous government, failed to properly reflect the women’s wishes.
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