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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Jan. 11)

All News 06:50 January 11, 2021

Victory for wartime victims
Japan urged to accept landmark compensation ruling

A local court has made a landmark ruling in favor of South Korean victims of Japan's wartime sex slavery. On Friday, the Seoul Central District Court ordered the Japanese government to pay 100 million won ($91,500) in compensation to each of 12 victims. This is the first time for former sex slaves to win a legal battle against Tokyo.

The ruling is seen as a warning against Japan which has refused to make a sincere apology for and reflect on its atrocities committed before and during World War II. It should serve as an opportunity to uphold human rights and justice for those who endured untold suffering under Japan's colonialism and militarism.

We hope the decision will help restore the honor and dignity of the victims who were forced into sexual enslavement for frontline Japanese soldiers during imperial Japan's ill-fated attempts to expand its territories from 1932 to 1945. Japan should humbly accept the ruling and do its best to heal the wounds of the victims. It must comply with the compensation order to atone for its past misdeeds.

Japan's forced mobilization of South Korean women as sex slaves was a crime against humanity. That's why the court ruled that Japan committed such a crime willfully, systematically and extensively, violating international law and norms. Denying the brutal and barbarian act should not and cannot be condoned.

It is also meaningful that the court rejected Japan's argument of "sovereign immunity" which allows a state to invoke immunity from a civil lawsuit in a foreign court. The domestic court set a precedent by excluding Japan from the shield of immunity. To be sure, the immunity principle should not be applied to war crimes or crimes against humanity such as sex trafficking and slavery.

So it is hard to accept Japan's reaction to the court order ― Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga immediately said that his government would not accept it. He repeated Japan's position that the sex slavery issue had already been completely and definitely resolved under the 1965 treaty between the two countries and the 2015 bilateral agreement. The Japanese foreign ministry summoned Korean Ambassador to Japan Nam Gwan-pyo to lodge a protest over the ruling.

However, the court concluded that the treaty and other agreements between Seoul and Tokyo did not override the victims' rights to seek compensation from Japan for their suffering. The ruling came after the Korean Supreme Court ordered Japanese firms in 2018 to pay compensation to surviving South Korean victims of wartime forced labor. The order worsened bilateral ties with Tokyo launching trade retaliation against its neighbor.

The latest ruling is likely to further deteriorate relations between the two sides. It is also feared to negatively affect incoming U.S. President Joe Biden's efforts to strengthen trilateral cooperation with its Asian allies. In fact, Seoul and Tokyo have a lot of work to do together for security, defense and their economies. Japan can play a role in denuclearizing North Korea and settling peace on the Korean Peninsula.

The problem is how to resolve historical disputes between the two countries. Now Seoul and Tokyo should make genuine efforts to narrow their differences and move forward toward reconciliation and cooperation. Most of all, Japan must face up to history squarely. It needs to respect the court ruling to ease indescribable pains of the wartime victims. Otherwise, the two countries cannot forge a future-oriented partnership.

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