Lawsuits loom from victims of Japanese colonisation

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 January, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 January, 2005, 12:00am

Declassified papers show Seoul received grants to put an end to reparation claims

Seoul is bracing itself for a possible flood of lawsuits from elderly South Koreans who claim the government cheated them of their right to compensation for suffering and losses incurred under Japanese colonial rule.

The lawsuits are expected in the wake of the publication this week of official documents which reveal that Seoul received large grants and loans from Japan in return for agreeing not to pursue future claims for reparation for Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule of the peninsula. However, less than 10 per cent of the money earmarked for compensation reached the victims of Japanese colonisation.

The victims and their families have pledged to pursue legal action against Seoul for their share of reparations. 'The South Korea-Japan Treaty, which deprived individuals of their rights, is a product of illicit collusion between the two nations' political powers,' said Yang Soon-im, head of the Association for the Pacific War Victims.

South Korea's undertaking underpinned the 1965 treaty signed with Japan, which normalised relations between the two countries.

'Now that various claims are being settled together, how to deal with individual claims should be treated as a domestic issue,' a Seoul negotiator is quoted as saying in the declassified minutes.

Under the terms of the treaty, South Korea received US$800 million in grants and soft loans in return for settling the issue of reparations.

South Korea's foreign ministry has admitted that only 9.7 per cent of the US$300 million earmarked for compensation was distributed to victims and their families. The remainder was diverted for economic development by the military dictatorship which then ruled South Korea.

The conditions set by the government for receiving compensation were extremely restrictive.

Fewer than 10,000 families were compensated for the deaths of family members conscripted into the Japanese army or forcibly recruited as labourers.

Seoul originally demanded US$364 million in compensation for 1.03 million Koreans who it said were injured, killed or forced into labour or military service by Japanese troops, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

The Association for the Pacific War Victims has also accused the South Korean government of insufficient negotiations, which they say deprived them of their right to pursue individual reparations.

The association says it will also lodge suits against the Japanese government, but in the past Japanese courts have refused to award damages to South Koreans, saying the issue was settled on a government-to-government basis.

Opposition MP Lee Jae-oh, who has been a leading campaigner against the 1965 normalisation-of-relations treaty, has called for a parliamentary inquiry into its 'unfair' terms.