S. Korea to compensate Japan's wartime forced labor victims via donations
South Korea offered on Monday to compensate the South Korean victims who were forced by the Imperial Japan into harsh labor during World War II through a private foundation rather than direct payment by responsible Japanese companies.
South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin told a press briefing that the Foundation for Victims of Forced Mobilization, affiliated with the interior ministry, will pay damages and interest on arrears to the plaintiffs who won three lawsuits at the Supreme Court in 2018 as part of support for the victims and the bereaved families.
Park said the foundation, launched in 2014, will compensate other plaintiffs who would win other cases relevant to the wartime forced labor, noting that it will be financed by voluntary donations from the private sector.
In 2018, the South Korean top court handed down historical rulings that ordered Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Nippon Steel to pay reparations to the forced labor victims under the 1910-45 Japanese colonization of the Korean Peninsula.
Japan claimed that all colonial-era issues were settled through the 1965 treaty that normalized diplomatic relations between Seoul and Tokyo, but the South Korean court ruled that the state-to-state treaty did not involve individuals' right to reparation.
Even after the top court's rulings, the accused Japanese firms had paid no reparations to the plaintiffs, or the victims and the bereaved families, who then pushed to sell assets of the Japanese companies in South Korea to no avail.
The victims and the bereaved families have strongly protested against the compensation plan through a foundation funded by South Korean companies, demanding a sincere apology from the Japanese government and the accused firms.
Lim Jae-sung, attorney for the plaintiffs in the Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries cases, said last month that the government persuaded or forced the plaintiffs to forfeit their rights to sell assets of the Japanese firms.
He noted that it was aimed to promote the normalized South Korea-Japan ties as an achievement of the government at the sacrifice of the forced labor victims.
Meanwhile, the South Korean foreign minister said the government hoped that South Korea and Japan will work together to overcome the unfortunate history by inheriting the 1998 declaration adopted by then South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and then Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi.
In the declaration, Obuchi expressed remorse for the damage and pain the Imperial Japan inflicted on the Korean Peninsula.