When courts ignore human rights, there’s no future for S. Korea-Japan relations

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      (Editorial) When courts ignore human rights, there’s no future for S. Korea-Japan relations
      Hankyoreh June 9

      There has been strong pushback against the June 7 decision by Kim Yang-ho, senior judge in the 34th Civil Division at the Seoul Central District Court, to dismiss a raft of damages lawsuits filed against 16 Japanese companies implicated in war crimes by 85 victims of forced labor during the Japanese colonial period and their surviving family members.

      This shoddy ruling, which peddled one-sided arguments about national security and foreign policy while disregarding the human rights of the victims, has become the target of vocal criticism from legal experts and many others.

      Meanwhile, the conservative press is pathetically championing the dismissal, as if a lowly district court could overturn the Supreme Court’s 2018 en banc ruling that awarded compensation for forced labor.

      The district court’s argument is that the forced labor victims are unable to exercise their right to claim damages against Japanese companies because the damages issue was completely resolved by a claims agreement reached by South Korea and Japan in 1965.



      The decision is overtly political, conflicts with an en banc decision of the Korean Supreme Court, and will likely be overturned on appeal. I’m not sure the 1965 Agreement can be the basis of this decision; there are a number of arguments for this, one having to do with private claims as compared to subrogated claims, and other arguments showing that there was no intent to pay individual claims when the agreement was negotiated; and third, the legality of an agreement which liquidates individual claims resting on crimes against humanity, never acknowledged by the negotiating parties at the time of the agreement. The current decision conflates a treaty and related agreement concerning “normalization” of relations, with reparations for war crimes. The decision also resurrects the bitter divide of democrats from conservatives who are legacy beneficiaries of the pro-Japan collaborator class which still own most universities, private academies, and media in South Korea.

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