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Supreme Court orders Japanese firms to compensate forced Korean laborers for colonial day suffering

All Headlines 21:20 May 24, 2012

SEOUL, May 24 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's highest court ruled Thursday that Japanese enterprises should pay compensation for their former Korean employees who were forcibly drafted into the Japanese workforce during the country's colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula decades ago.

Reversing previous rulings by South Korea's district and appellate courts, the Supreme Court ordered Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. and Nippon Steel Corp. to compensate a group of 11 forced Korean laborers for unpaid salaries and suffering during the Japanese colonial rule from 1910 to 1945.

The Supreme Court made the ruling, the first of its kind either in South Korea or Japan, in two lawsuits filed separately by 11 South Koreans who were forcibly taken to Japan in 1944 to work for the two Japanese companies. They had unsuccessfully sued the companies in Japan in the 1990s.

A group of six former forced laborers filed a collective suit against Mitsubishi in Busan in May 2000, while another group of five launched a similar compensation suit against Nippon Steel in Seoul in February 2005. But the lower courts and appellant courts dismissed their claims, citing the previous rulings in Japan and the expiration of the statute of limitations.

"Japanese courts previously ruled against forced Korean laborers, but the rulings were based on the assumption that Japan's colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula and the Korean people was legal," said the Supreme Court of South Korea.

"The Japanese court rulings cannot be approved, as they run directly counter to the Republic of Korea's core constitutional value, which regards Japan's forceful mobilization of Koreans during the colonial period as illegal," said the top court.

The court also noted that the right to compensation against Mitsubishi and Nippon Steel was not invalidated by a 1965 treaty that normalized relations between the two countries.

The Korean plaintiffs claimed to have been exposed to life-threatening conditions and to still be suffering from the aftereffects of their mistreatment, including radiation-related illnesses after the atomic bombing by the U.S. in 1945.

During the 1910-45 colonial rule, millions of Koreans were drafted into the Japanese workforce and the military, and even forced into sexual enslavement at frontline brothels.

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