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South Korea court dismisses wartime labor lawsuit against Japanese firms

A South Korean court said Monday that plaintiffs in a wartime labor case have “limited rights” in suing Japanese nationals, after the issue of forced laborers were at the focus of local protests and tensions with Japan. File Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI
A South Korean court said Monday that plaintiffs in a wartime labor case have “limited rights” in suing Japanese nationals, after the issue of forced laborers were at the focus of local protests and tensions with Japan. File Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI | License Photo

June 7 (UPI) -- A court in South Korea dismissed a lawsuit initiated by a group of 85 plaintiffs against Japanese companies that exploited a wartime labor force.

Victims who have been seeking reparations from Japanese companies say they will appeal the decision.

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The Seoul Central District Court said Monday it is are dismissing the suit that demands Japanese companies pay each plaintiff about $90,000 for forced labor and withheld compensation during World War II, Kyunghyang Shinmun reported.

The suit targets 16 companies, including Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal Corp., Nissan Chemical Corp., and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, according to Yonhap.

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The ruling comes after when South Korea's Supreme Court ordered Nippon Steel in October 2018 to pay about $90,000 each to plaintiffs in a forced wartime labor case.

Last August, Nippon Steel appealed the South Korean Supreme Court decision after the court said it would enforce a seizure or sale of local assets, including a joint venture called PNR in Korea.

Kim Yang-ho, the presiding judge at Seoul Central District Court, said the plaintiffs couldn't make "individual claims" against Japan or Japanese nationals because of the 1965 Korea-Japan normalization treaty.

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"The individual right of a Korean national to claims against Japan or a Japanese national cannot be said to have been extinguished or abandoned due to the 1965 Treaty, but a Korean national's use of litigation to exercise the right is restricted," the court said Monday.

The court's decision angered victims and their families.

Jang Deok-hwan, a spokesman for the victims and families said the decision is beyond comprehension, SBS reported Monday.

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The 2018 court decision raised tensions with Tokyo, but more recently the two countries have signaled interest in improving relations since Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga assumed office.

Last year, Suga said Seoul should offer an "appropriate response" on the issue of compensation for Korean wartime laborers.

Tokyo has said all colonial-era compensation claims were settled with the signing of the 1965 Korea-Japan normalization treaty.

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