Japanese Communist Party Chair Kazuo Shii issued a statement on November 1 calling for a fair resolution on the issue of wartime forced laborers after South Korea’s Supreme Court ordered a Japanese steel company to pay damages to four South Koreans who had been subject to forced labor during Japan’s colonial rule. Below is the full text of his statement:
JCP calls for fair resolution on the issue of wartime forced laborers – regarding the ruling by South Korea’s Supreme Court
Chair, Japanese Communist Party
Member of the House of Representatives of Japan
November 1, 2018
The South Korean Supreme Court gave a ruling on October 30 ordering Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corporation to compensate four South Koreans who had been forced to work in Japan during Japan’s war of aggression – the Asia-Pacific War.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dismissed the court decision and showed a defiant attitude to Seoul, insisting that the issue of wartime drafted workers’ right to claim compensation was “completely and finally” resolved by the 1965 agreement between Japan and South Korea which concerns the right to claim for damages as well as economic cooperation. Abe added that this ruling is “totally unacceptable in light of international law”.
This response made by the Japanese government has serious problems.
Senior officials of Japan’s government have repeatedly said in Diet deliberations that wartime drafted workers would not lose their individual right to claim compensation even if the Japanese and South Korean governments officially resolved the issue of the right to claim compensation in the bilateral agreement.
In an Upper House Budget Committee meeting on August 27, 1991, Shunji Yanai, the then director of the Treaties Bureau of the Foreign Ministry, explained the meaning of Article 2 of the Japan-South Korea agreement which stipulates that the issue of the right to claim damages was “completely and finally” resolved between the two countries. He noted that the article did not intend to revoke individual rights to claim compensation in terms of domestic law.
The issue of foreign nationals who were subject to forced labor in Japan during the war has also been an issue of concern with China. On April 27, 2007, Japan’s Supreme Court issued a ruling urging the Japanese government and Nishimatsu Construction Co. to implement voluntary measures to enable the recovery of the dignity of former Chinese forced laborers. The court decision stated that individual victims lost power to claim for damages in lawsuits by the 1972 Japan-China Joint Communique, but noted that it was not meant to revoke their individual rights to claim compensation. Encouraged by this decision, Nishimatsu reached a settlement with the plaintiffs, offering an apology and consolation money to them.
Even if the issue of the right to claim for damages is settled between nations, it will not invalidate individual persons’ right to demand compensation – this is a basic stance taken by Japan’s successive governments and Supreme Court.
Based on this stance, the Japanese government and the companies concerned should make efforts to reach a fair resolution and restore victims’ honor and dignity.
According to South Korea’s top court decision, the claimants’ demand is not for unpaid wages and the like but for damages from enduring wartime forced labor – the Japanese firm’s inhumane illegal acts directly linked to Japan’s war of aggression and brutal colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. The ruling also points to the fact that in negotiations over the 1965 bilateral pact, Japan had stubbornly refused to admit to the illegality of its past colonial rule and to pay legal compensation for the use of slave labor. And it concludes that under such circumstances, the right to seek compensation for forced labor cannot be covered by the bilateral accord.
It is a hard historical fact that throughout the negotiation process, the Japanese government refused to acknowledge any unlawfulness in Japan’s colonial rule and expressed no apology or remorse for its wartime acts.
The issue of wartime drafted workers – forced laborers – is a serious issue of violation of human rights caused by Japan’s war of aggression and colonial rule. During that period, a large number of people in China and the Korean Peninsula were taken to the mainland of Japan and forced to work in Japanese factories and mines. Many of them were either killed or died from the abuses and work under oppressive and highly exploitative working conditions. It is also true that the Japanese government and companies concerned have not issued a clear apology or even expressed remorse to those victims.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Japan-South Korea Partnership Declaration signed in 1998 by then Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi and South Korean President Kim Dae Jung. It was the first time Japan expressed “deep remorse” for its past colonial rule in an official agreement with South Korea.
The Japanese Communist Party calls on the Japanese government and related companies to work to find a fair solution to this issue on the basis of sincere and heartfelt remorse for Japan’s colonial rule and war of aggression.