Hebei villagers to file 6b-yuan lawsuit against Japanese government over WW2
Survivors and their families demand apology and compensation over mass killing in their village - in landmark case for province's high court
Hebei villagers are planning to sue the Japanese government for more than 6 billion yuan (HK$7.5 billion) in a local court over the killings of some 1,000 villagers during the second world war.
If accepted by the Hebei High People’s Court, it will be the first class-action suit launched in China against Tokyo, on behalf of those who died in a mass killing by Japanese troops during that war.
The Beijing-based non-government group Chinese Civilian Association for Claiming Compensation from Japan was entrusted to handle the lawsuit, in which plaintiffs from Panjiayu are demanding an apology and compensation.
They wish to claim 6.4 billion yuan in from Japan for economic losses and psychological damage, federation president Tong Zeng said.
Tong told the South China Morning Post that he hired eight lawyers so far to work on the case, which they plan to bring to the high court.
"I think the court will very likely accept the case,” Tong said, though Chinese courts have rarely done so with such cases.
Panjiayu is a mountainous village in the Fengrun district of Hebei’s Tangshan city. Around 1,300 of its villagers were killed by 3,000 Japanese soldiers on January 25, 1941, according to the Hebei Youth Daily.
Another 96 people were injured.
Pan Shanzeng, 80, who survived the invasion, told Xinhua news agency said the horror of that day could not be wiped from the villagers’ memories.
Another villager, Pan Ruishen, who is leading the village’s push for compensation, said the case came amid fears Japan is planning to turn away from its pacifist constitution, enshrined after the war, and allowing its self-defence forces to engage in combat.
"What’s more terrible than the massacre was the Japanese government’s shameless attitude of no introspection, apology or compensation, and its ambition of reviving militarism,” Pan Ruishen was quoted as saying.
After failed litigation in Japanese courts, Chinese who experienced Japanese occupation started filing lawsuits in China against the Japanese government in 2006.
All of the cases were rejected – until March, when the Beijing Number 1 Intermediate People’s Court accepted the lawsuit of 37 former Chinese labourers against their Japanese employers in wartime. The case is still pending.
"I believe there will be more and more cases of the kind to be accepted by Chinese courts in the future,” said Tong. “The overall environment in China for such claims has been loosened. The courts are making progress.”
Asked whether the Japanese government would enforce a Chinese court decision, he said, “we can discuss that later. The Chinese government will surely have a way.”
Li Qingming, an associated researcher on international law at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, has said cases of this nature needed approval from the country’s Supreme People’s Court.
He has also said the chances of Japan enforcing the decision was low as the two nations have not signed any international convention on judicial assistance. Japan can also invoke sovereign immunity, Li said.
Since 1995, victims and their families have filed more than 30 war-related cases to Japanese courts, demanding compensation and official apologies, but they either lost the lawsuits or the cases were rejected.
The main reasons for the rejection include: the prescribed period for litigation has passed; the claim for compensation was generated by lawyers instead of the victims; and the Chinese government’s waiving of war compensation in the Joint Communiqué of Japan and China rendered civil claims moot.