Two victims of Japan’s wartime forced labor filed an appeal with the United Nations Human Rights Council on Wednesday, a year after South Korea’s top court ordered a Japanese firm to compensate them.
The victims are seeking to address the issue at an international forum and for the UN to intervene and pressure the Japanese government and firms, according to lawyers representing the victims. It is the first time that an appeal on the forced labor issue has been filed with the UN.
Yang Keum-deok and Lee Chun-shik, who were forced to work at Japanese steel mills during Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of Korea, called on the Japanese government to apologize to the victims and compensate them for their suffering.
“I get so angry when I think of Japanese people who were treating Koreans like animals,” Yang, who was forced to work at a steel factory run by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, said at a press briefing held in southern Seoul
“I hope (Japanese Prime Minister) Shinzo Abe kneels down and apologizes to me and others as soon as possible.”
On Oct. 30 last year, Korea’s Supreme Court ordered Japan’s Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. to compensate four Koreans, including Lee, in the first such ruling on the forced labor issue. No action has been taken by Japan or the firm to address the court ruling.
The lawyers have sought a court order to forcibly seize and liquidate the assets of two Japanese firms — Nippon Steel and Nachi-Fujikoshi Corp. — in Korea to compensate the victims, and the Korean court has issued the order, according to Kim Se-eun, one of the lawyers representing the victims.
The documents stipulating the court order, however, have not been delivered to the firms in question, which the victims’ lawyers denounced as the Japanese government’s attempt to impede court proceedings.
If the court documents fail to reach the firms, the legal team for the victims plans to ask the Korean court to proceed in implementing the ruling, according to Kim. The court is to decide whether to proceed or not without having the court order delivered to the firms.
Proceedings related to liquidating the Japanese firms’ assets here have been put on hold, as the papers could not be delivered.
Eighty-two more victims have filed suits with Korean courts against Japanese companies since the Supreme Court’s ruling, also seeking compensation. The lawsuits apply to a total 11 Japanese firms.
More lawsuits involving victims and their bereaved families are planned.
Labor groups also launched a campaign to collect signatures from 1 million citizens to take the issue to the International Labor Organization.
Throughout the day, protests condemning the Abe administration were held in front of the Japanese Embassy as well as at other locations in Seoul.
The appeal to the UN comes amid an intensifying diplomatic row between Tokyo and Seoul.
On the Korean court’s ruling, Tokyo claims the colonial era matter was settled by the 1965 treaty normalizing bilateral ties.
In an apparent act of retaliation, Japan tightened restrictions on exports to Korea and removed the country from its list of favored trading partners, which enraged Koreans and led them to a boycott of Japanese goods and services.
An estimated 261,000 South Koreans were forced into labor during Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. There is no official data on how many of them are still alive.