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(LEAD) Court says Seoul's inaction over former 'comfort women' unconstitutional

All News 18:30 August 30, 2011

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details of court decision, separate ruling on nuke victims in paras 3-4, 6-12; foreign ministry's response in last 4 paras)

SEOUL, Aug. 30 (Yonhap) -- A top South Korean court said Tuesday that it is unconstitutional for the government to make no tangible effort to settle disputes with Japan over its refusal to compensate Korean women mobilized as sex slaves during its 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

The Constitutional Court ruled in a 6-3 vote that the government violated the basic rights of the former "comfort women" with its inaction.

The ruling is expected to have strong diplomatic influence as it clarified the government's duty to do all it can do to help its citizens get compensation from the Japanese government.

Former sex slaves and local victims of the nuclear bombing in Japan have consistently demanded an apology and compensation from the Japanese government, citing diplomatic documents showing that their issue was not addressed in the 1965 treaty signed between the two governments to normalize diplomatic ties.

Historians say more than 200,000 women fell victim to the Imperial Japanese Army, which coaxed or forced young girls to work in front-line brothels.

But the Japanese government has rejected the demand, sticking to its official position that the compensation for all individuals was already addressed in 1965 with the Treaty of Basic Relations between the two nations. Seoul received US$800 million in grants and soft loans under the pact.

The South Korean government has taken a lukewarm position on the victims' call for settling the compensation issue on behalf of them, saying it may hurt diplomatic relations with Tokyo.

"When there is a dispute between the two countries over the victims' rights to claim compensation, it is the government's duty to move toward solving the dispute," the court said. "The government must settle this through diplomatic channels since there exists differing views on whether the 1965 agreement covers the former comfort women or not."

A group of 108 former South Korean comfort women filed a petition against their government in July 2006, claiming that the government infringed on their rights to pursue happiness and property rights when it made no effort to settle the compensation dispute.

Also on Tuesday, the constitutional court made a similar ruling in a petition lodged by some 2,500 South Korean nuclear bomb victims in 2008.

The court said the government's passive attitude toward solving the victims' dispute with the Japanese government was unconstitutional.

Seoul's foreign ministry said the government "humbly accepts" the court's decision but maintains that the Japanese government has legal responsibility over the issue.

The government "plans to continue to use various diplomatic channels between Seoul and Tokyo, and the international stage to demand responsible action from Japan," the ministry said in an e-mailed statement.

The ministry also claimed the government has until now prioritized giving "practical help" to the victims, considering the difficulties of quickly reaching a legal solution with Japan.

In light of the court ruling, the government will draw up its own comprehensive response, it added.



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