Korean court orders Mitsubishi to pay for forced labor in WWII
South Korea’s Supreme Court on Thursday ordered Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of Japan to compensate South Koreans forced to work in its factories during World War II, the second such ruling in a month that has bedeviled relations between the two key U.S. allies in Asia.
The top court upheld a lower-court ruling that ordered Mitsubishi to pay five women 100 million won to 150 million won, or about $89,000 to $133,000, each. In a separate ruling Thursday, the court also ordered Mitsubishi to pay 80 million won to each of six men who said they were subject to forced labor at a Mitsubishi shipyard and machine tool factory in 1944.
Korea was a Japanese colony from 1910 until Japan’s 1945 surrender in World War II.
The rulings Thursday have been expected since the Supreme Court issued a landmark verdict Oct. 30 finding Japan’s Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal guilty of exploiting forced labor during Japan’s colonial rule. In that case, the court ordered the company to pay $88,700 in compensation to each of four South Korean victims.
Japan insists that all matters concerning allegations of forced labor were settled under agreements that established bilateral diplomatic ties in 1965. In its October verdict, however, the South Korean Supreme Court ruled for the first time that those deals should not impede individual victims’ rights to seek redress. It reaffirmed its opinion through its decisions Thursday.
If a Japanese company convicted in the South Korean court refuses to pay the compensation, the plaintiffs and their families could ask local courts to seize the company’s assets in South Korea.
Mitsubishi called the verdict “deeply regrettable.” Japan’s foreign minister, Taro Kono, quickly issued a statement calling the court’s decisions “totally unacceptable.”
“This fundamentally overturns the legal basis for friendly ties between Japan and South Korea,” Kono said.
Kim Sung-joo, bottom center, a victim of Japan’s forced labor, celebrates outside the Supreme Court in Seoul.