SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA — A South Korean court on Thursday ordered Japan to compensate 16 women over wartime forced sexual slavery, overturning a lower-court ruling that had dismissed the case.
The 2021 ruling said the women were not entitled to compensation, citing “sovereign immunity” for Tokyo, and ruling that accepting the victims’ claims could cause a diplomatic incident.
But the Seoul High Court ruled Thursday it was “reasonable to say sovereign immunity should not be respected… in case of illegal conduct”, according to a court document seen by AFP.
It ordered that some 200 million won (US$154,000) be paid to each of the complainants.
The court said the victims were “forcibly abducted or lured into the sexual enslavement”.
It ruled that as a result they had suffered “damage” and “could not live a normal life post-war”.
Lee Young-soo, a 95-year-old victim and one of the 16 plaintiffs, threw her arms high in joy as she exited a court building, telling reporters: “I am very thankful… I thank the victims who have passed away.”
Mainstream historians say up to 200,000 women — mostly from Korea, but also other parts of Asia including China — were forced to become sex slaves, so-called comfort women, for Japanese soldiers during World War II.
The issue has long bedevilled bilateral ties between Seoul and Tokyo, which colonised the Korean peninsula between 1910 and 1945.
The ruling comes as the conservative South Korean government of President Yoon Suk Yeol has sought to bury the historical hatchet and improve ties with Tokyo to jointly confront growing military threats from North Korea.
The Japanese government denies it is directly responsible for the wartime abuses, maintaining that the victims were recruited by civilians and that military brothels were commercially operated.
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