South Korea’s ruling party: “Japan should face up to its history” – Reasons for Japan-South Korea collapse comfort women verdict
article by Yasuhiro Watanabe FNN Seoul Branch Chief Reporter
“Main text, the defendant shall pay 100 million won (about 9.5 million yen) to each of the plaintiffs.
The plaintiffs are 12 Korean women who were comfort women in the former Japanese military. The plaintiffs are 12 Korean women (including their families) who were comfort women of the former Japanese military, and the defendant is the Japanese government.
The ruling allows for provisional execution, so the plaintiffs can apply for the seizure of Japanese government assets in Korea at any time, such as cars and other equipment owned by the Japanese embassy, and possibly the embassy staff quarters. If seized, Japan-Korea relations will be ruined.
Why was the unprecedented decision by a South Korean court to order the Japanese government to pay compensation handed down?
Plaintiff Lee Ok-sun, a former comfort woman.
Sovereign Immunity Not Allowed
The ruling in question states.
“This is a systematic, widespread and inhumane criminal act, and even if it is a sovereign act of the state, sovereign immunity cannot be applied.
Sovereign immunity is a customary international law that states that a sovereign nation cannot be a defendant in a foreign court, and was established in the 19th century based on the idea that “sovereignty” is equal for all nations, regardless of size, and that no government should be subject to the jurisdiction of another.
The Japanese government did not participate in the trial on the basis of this sovereign immunity, and had informed the Korean government that the sovereign immunity applied and the case should be dismissed. However, the presiding judge denied the application of sovereign immunity.
The Japanese government immediately protested to the South Korean government, saying, “It is extremely regrettable that the court denied the principle of sovereign immunity under international law and issued a decision to accept the plaintiff’s lawsuit, and the Japanese government cannot accept this decision at all. He added, “The issue of property and claims between Japan and South Korea, including the comfort women issue, has been completely and finally settled under the 1965 Japan-Korea Claims and Economic Cooperation Agreement. In addition, the “final and irreversible settlement” of the comfort women issue has been confirmed by the governments of Japan and South Korea in the 2015 Japan-South Korea Agreement,” and strongly urged the South Korean government to take appropriate measures to rectify the violation of international law.
With regard to the Claims Agreement and the Japan-ROK Accord, which the Japanese government pointed out, the court made a blanket statement: “The agreements do not include compensation for individuals who suffered damages. It is a judgment that tramples on the stability of international relations.
The judge’s decision may have been based largely on his personal qualifications and thinking. But externally, there is a bizarre situation in Korean society today that compels him to hand down such a verdict.
Impeach Judges You Don’t Like
“The decision is based on prejudice.
“Judicial reform is needed.”
“We need to impeach the judges.”
These are not the words of a person who is dissatisfied with a ruling and is sitting in a courtroom or a corner of a bar. It was spoken in public by a powerful member of the Diet from the ruling party to the judge who was in charge of a particular trial.
The trial was a criminal case in which the wife of former Minister of Justice Cho Guk, the “Onion Man” who has been widely reported in Japan, was accused of forging documents for her daughter’s university entrance examination.
Former Minister of Justice Cho Guk
Former Justice Minister Cho Guk (right) was one of President Moon Jae-in’s closest aides.
The lawmakers are not alone. A petition to “demand the impeachment of judges” was submitted to the National Petition Counter on the website of the South Korean Presidential Office, and about 450,000 people (as of January 8) have supported the petition. Most of them are believed to be enthusiastic supporters of the ruling party.
This phenomenon was also seen during the recent violent confrontation between the Moon Jae-in administration and the top prosecutor general, Yoon Seok-yeol, which rocked South Korean society. President Moon Jae-in imposed a two-month disciplinary suspension on Prosecutor General Yoon, but when the court revoked the suspension, ruling party lawmakers intensively attacked the judge, saying that it was a judicial coup that halted the president’s power and that democracy was threatened by the court.
The presidential office’s website has received nearly 450,000 calls for the impeachment of the judge who convicted the wife of former Justice Minister Cho.
The Korean constitution, like the Japanese constitution, has language guaranteeing the independence of judges. Undue pressure on judges should be avoided in a nation governed by the rule of law, but it is being tolerated in Korean society these days. There is a deep-rooted anti-Japanese ideology in Korean society, and with overt pressure on the judiciary coming from the Diet members and public opinion, it has become difficult for the judges to issue a “win-win” verdict for Japan.
In the first place, a senior official of the Supreme Court of South Korea during the Park Geun-hye administration recognized that the case would be difficult due to “sovereign immunity, the governing act theory (a legal theory that states that high-level political decisions by the state should not be judged in court), the Korea-Japan comfort women agreement, and the statute of limitations. There is not much room for jurisdiction. Considering the economic repercussions and the level of confidence in Korea, it is reasonable to hold that the individual comfort women’s claims have been extinguished.
However, the Supreme Court officials at the time are now criminally accused of making these reports because of their “discovery” for the administration. The current administration has been thoroughly and relentlessly attacking conservatives such as the Park Geun-hye administration, and the fact that these reports were issued during the time of the conservative administration may have influenced the judges’ decision this time.
What will happen to Japan-Korea relations?
The plaintiff’s representative states that “the seizure of the Japanese government’s assets is under consideration.
The South Korean government, which has received strong protests from the Japanese government, has stated that it “respects the court’s decision” but “recalls that the 2015 Japan-South Korea agreement is a formal agreement” and “will make efforts to continue constructive and future-oriented cooperation.
There is little room for the Moon Jae-in administration to come up with an effective solution.
However, a spokesman for the ruling party that supports President Moon Jae-in responded to Japan’s protest by saying, “We cannot hide our disappointment with the Japanese government, which continues to distort history as usual,” and “We hope that the Japanese government, which has consistently maintained its brazenness by treating the victims’ calls coldly, will take this ruling as an opportunity to face up to history. South Korea’s ruling party has called the Japanese government “brazen”.
In South Korea, the mayoral elections in Seoul and Busan, the prelude to next year’s presidential election, are scheduled for April. Even if the South Korean government says it will make “efforts” to manage relations between the two countries, hard-line arguments are likely to continue to emerge from the ruling party’s ranks ahead of the elections. In addition, the South Korean government has taken the position that it will not intervene in the judiciary and that it will respect the courts, as it did in the so-called commandeering lawsuit. The hard-line arguments around the ruling party and the non-intervention of the judiciary have made it difficult to move forward. It is unlikely that the South Korean government will be able to come up with an effective solution at this point.
In any case, the court decision ordering the Japanese government to pay compensation has been rendered. The Japanese government, which is not participating in the trial, has stated that it will not appeal, and the decision will be finalized in two weeks. The seizure of the Japanese government’s assets, which would ruin Japan-Korea relations, may occur in the not-too-distant future.