In a landmark ruling, a South Korean court on Friday ordered Japan to compensate women forced to work as wartime sex slaves.
The Seoul Central District Court ruled that Tokyo must give 100 million won ($91,300) each to 12 women who were abducted and kept in Japanese brothels during World War II, Yonhap News Agency reported.
The victims, euphemistically labelled as “comfort women,” filed the case back in 2013 and the first hearing was held last April.
The verdict, the first of its kind by a South Korean court, could further dent already fraught relations between Seoul and Tokyo, the report said.
“Evidence, relevant materials, and testimonies show that the victims suffered from extreme, unimaginable mental and physical pain due to the illegal acts by the accused. But no compensation has been made for their suffering,” the court said in its verdict.
A ruling in a similar case is expected to come out next week, according to the agency.
‘Ruling regrettable and unacceptable’
For Japan, the verdict is “extremely regrettable” and “utterly unacceptable,” according to local media reports.
“It is extremely regrettable that the ruling denied sovereign immunity – a concept under international law that the state is immune from the jurisdiction of the court of a foreign country,” said Takeo Akiba, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official, according to Kyodo News.
Tokyo also summoned South Korean Ambassador Nam Gwan-pyo to lodge a protest, with officials telling the envoy that the ruling is “utterly unacceptable.”
However, a government spokesperson said Japan “will not appeal the ruling as doing so would put the country under South Korea’s jurisdiction.”
Diplomatic relations between the two countries remained at an all-time low over the past year after a South Korean court ordered Japanese firms to compensate victims of forced labor during Japan’s colonial rule.
The ruling was rejected by Tokyo, which maintains that all claims related to its 35-year rule over the Korean Peninsula were settled under a 1965 bilateral agreement.
The issue of “comfort women,” according to Japan, was resolved through a 2015 agreement with Seoul, under which Tokyo paid $9.1 million for the establishment of a foundation dedicated to supporting wartime sex slavery victims.
South Korea, however, disbanded the foundation last year, with President Moon Jae-in’s administration saying the deal signed during his predecessor Park Geun-hye’s tenure was “seriously flawed.”
The move angered Tokyo, which views the agreement as “final and irreversible.”
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