Complete reversal as Seoul court tosses 'comfort women' lawsuit

World | REUTERS 22 Apr 2021

A South Korean court upheld state immunity for Japan and dismissed a lawsuit brought by women forced to work in Japanese wartime brothels, contradicting a ruling in a case that ordered Tokyo to compensate victims.

Remnants of Japan's 1910-45 rule of the Korean peninsula remain contentious, with surviving "comfort women" - a Japanese euphemism for sex providers - demanding a formal apology by Japan and compensation.

Tension flared in January when another judge at the Seoul Central District Court ruled in favor of the women, for the first time ordering Japan to pay compensation.

That drew a rebuke from Tokyo, which said the issue was settled under a 1965 treaty and a 2015 deal.

But yesterday a judge in the same court recognized Japan's right to state immunity from overseas lawsuits, contradicting the January ruling that Tokyo could not escape "a crime against humanity."

Judge Min Seong Cheol said: "If an exception on state immunity is acknowledged a diplomatic clash would be inevitable," dismissing the latest case brought by 20 comfort women victims and relatives.

But Lee Yong Soo, a victim of wartime sex slavery and a plaintiff, called Min's ruling "absurd" and said she would seek international action.

Min also said the issue should be resolved with diplomatic consultations, and the 2015 deal could provide a basis despite some flaws in it.

Under that deal Tokyo issued an official apology and gave money to help comfort women victims.

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