Japan's Foreign Ministry rebuts South Korean position on ‘comfort women’

Monday, January 25, 2021

By Fred Varcoe

TOKYO- (PanOrient News) Japan’s Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi has rejected the decision by a Seoul court that holds the Japanese government responsible for the sexual slavery of Korean women during the Japanese colonization of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

Earlier this month, the Seoul Central District Court rendered a judgment ordering the government of Japan to pay compensation to the plaintiffs, women who say they were forced into sexual slavery. The Foreign Minister says the ruling “denies the application of the principle of state immunity under international law.”

The statement issued by the Foreign Minister notes: “Under international law, a state is, in principle, not to be subject to the jurisdiction of other states, as each state has sovereignty and states exist on an equal basis with each other. Japan has repeatedly expressed its position that this lawsuit therefore must be dismissed because it is not acceptable for the Government of Japan to be subject to the jurisdiction of the Republic of Korea in accordance with this principle of State immunity in international law.”

Japan claims all wartime and colonization issues were resolved by the San Francisco Treaty in 1951, the 1965 treaty normalizing relations with South Korea and a 2015 agreement specifically aimed at settling the “comfort women” issue. Seoul says that the treatment of the so-called “comfort women” was a crime against humanity and falls outside the parameters of previous agreements.

Foreign Minister Motegi's statement stated: “The Agreement on the Settlement of Problem concerning Property and Claims and on the Economic Co-operation between Japan and the Republic of Korea of 1965 stipulated that the issue concerning property and claims between Japan and the Republic of Korea, including the issue of comfort women, was ‘settled completely and finally’ and no contention shall be made.”

He also pointed out that Japan confirmed the 2015 agreement and “implemented all measures it committed to under this agreement.” Motegi said the Republic of Korea must abide by international law and its actions have contravened such laws.

The Japanese government has issued a number of apologies for crimes committed while Korea was a Japanese colony, but Seoul remains unsatisfied by these apologies, deeming them sincere and believes Japan should compensate the “comfort women” and Japanese companies should also pay those forced to work in mines and factories during this time.

In 1994, an International Commission of Jurists looking into the matter stated: “The [1965] agreement was never intended to and did not include ‘claims’ involving the violations of human rights.”

However, it was the Seoul government that tore up the 2015 agreement after Japan had agreed to its conditions.

An editorial in the English-language Korea Herald on January 12 chided the government of President Moon Jae-in, suggesting that its intransigence was further damaging relations between Seoul and Tokyo.

The editorial said that “repeated calls for compensation and apology seem to have further strengthened the position of Japan’s hawkish right-wing politicians, weakening its conscientious voices. Now is the time for the Moon government to put forth solutions to build forward-looking ties no longer tethered to historical disputes.”

Japan imposed restrictions on exports of high-tech materials to South Korea in 2019 after the Korean Supreme Court ordered Japanese companies to compensate workers under colonial rule. This month’s court ruling against the Japanese government could result in further measure being taken.

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