SEOUL – South Korea’s Constitutional Court on Tuesday dismissed a case filed by a group of South Koreans who were punished as war criminals after serving in the Imperial Japanese Army as guards during World War II, saying that their government is not responsible for compensation issues.
Lee Hak Rae, who had lived in Japan and died in March at age 96, and other South Koreans submitted the case to the Constitutional Court in 2014, claiming that the South Korean government contravened the Constitution by not voluntarily seeking to resolve issues relating to the war criminals with the Japanese government and thus violating their basic human rights.
Lee and his fellows, who had worked as guards at Japanese prisoner-of-war camps in Southeast Asian countries, were convicted as Class-B and Class-C war criminals at the war crimes tribunal by the Allied forces.
But they lost their Japanese nationality when the San Francisco Peace Treaty signed by Japan and 48 other nations took effect in 1952, losing a chance to receive compensation from the Japanese government which former soldiers and staff of the Japanese imperial army received.
Five out of nine judges of the court voted to dismiss the claim on Tuesday, while the other four said that it was unconstitutional.
The court said in a statement that the South Korean government cannot be held responsible to take action in seeking a solution for compensation of the war criminals with the Japanese government.
“It is hard to regard the compensation issue, of those who were labeled as Class-BC war criminals by the international war crimes tribunal, is under the same category with the one by ex-comfort women or atomic bomb survivors,” the court said.
In response to the court’s ruling, the South Korean Foreign Ministry said, “The government respects the Constitutional Court’s decision and will continue to make efforts in solving Class-BC war criminals’ damage issue,” in a statement.
Lee and other former guards at Japanese POW camps also had filed a lawsuit against the Japanese government, seeking compensation and apology for the matter, but lost the case in 1999.
In addition to Class-A war criminals who were convicted of crimes against peace, there were some 5,700 Class-B and Class-C war criminals, according to the Japanese government. Many of them were subordinate officers, petty officers or guards.
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