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New S. Korea Suits Filed Against Japanese Firms Over Forced Labor

FILE - Descendants of Koreans who were conscripted to the Japanese imperial army or recruited for forced labor under Japan's colonization attend an anti-Japan rally in Seoul, South Korea, June 22, 2015. New lawsuits concerning WWII forced labor have been filed.

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA — Survivors and family members of laborers forced to work during World War II have sued additional Japanese companies seeking compensation. The legal action marks the first new litigation brought against Japanese entities since a South Korean court first ordered Japan’s Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. to compensate victims for their wartime forced labor in October 2018.

The eight new suits were brought about against four companies: Nippon Steel, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., Nachi-Fujikoshi Corp., and Nippon Coke & Engineering (formerly known as Mitsui Mining Co.).

The 31 plaintiffs include four direct survivors of the 1910-1945 period when Japan controlled the Korean Peninsula and 27 family members from six other deceased workers. Each is seeking compensation of up to almost $88,000.

Two wartime victims involved with the suit appeared with the Lawyers for a Democratic Society and the Center for Historical Truth and Justice during a press conference when the cases were filed.

“I feel something gushing out of me when I think now (about the past). It’s one difficult matter, why did we have to be taken by them and live like dogs and pigs?” said 102-year-old survivor Kim Han-soo.

Seeking court-ordered reparations

In November 2018, South Korea’s top court ruled that Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. must compensate South Koreans just more than $71,000 in two separate cases for their forced labor during World War II.

It was a ruling that prompted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to characterize as “unthinkable in light of international law.”

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. has not paid the compensation, because the Japanese government’s position is that all historical compensation was settled in 1965, when Seoul and Tokyo re-established formal diplomatic ties; however, Seoul courts have determined that the settlement of claims related to forced labor was not included in the bilateral agreement.

As a result, a Daejeon District Court last month ordered the seizure of assets held by Japanese firms.

Victims are attempting to remedy the situation through mediation, but the matter remains unresolved.