Forced Korean labor victims eye suit against Japanese firms

A group of Koreans who were forced to work for Japanese firms during the colonial period said Tuesday it is pursuing what could be the largest class-action suit of its kind to seek damages from their former employers.

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Millions of Koreans are known to have been coerced into labor during Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula between 1910 and 1945. Many of the survivors testify to having worked excruciatingly long hours and carried out dangerous tasks without being properly fed.

Japanese firms have denied responsibility, arguing that a 1965 normalization treaty between South Korea and Japan settled damages caused by forced labor.

A landmark ruling by the South Korean Supreme Court in 2012, however, has invalidated these claims and allowed individuals to seek compensation from their former employers. Several damages suits have been filed since, with the largest class so far being that of 252 family members.

An even larger class-action suit may be in store, as the Asia Victims of the Pacific War Family of the Deceased Association of the Korea (sic) said it is planning to gather more than 1,000 plaintiffs for the same cause. On the other side of the courtroom would be more than 100 Japanese companies, including Mitsubishi, Mitsui, Aso and Nissan.

The group said it has received more than 1,400 applications from former forced laborers and their family members to become plaintiffs.

“We are in the process of selecting those who are legally eligible,” the group said at a press conference in downtown Seoul.

If successful in its endeavors, the group will have organized the largest South Korean motion against Japanese employers during the colonial era.

There is a catch, though, and it is that the Supreme Court ruling is only valid until May 23 this year. Article 766 of the South Korean civil law states that damages can only be sought for three years since the identification of the perpetrators and the victims or 10 years since the illegal acts were carried out.

Facing a tight deadline, the group called on South Korean courts to make an exception to this rule.

“It’s ineffective to have millions of victims file damages suits individually,” a representative of the group said. “The courts should allow us to represent all those in similar situations in this class-action suit.” (Source: Yonhap)

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