Implications of the ruling for Japanese military “comfort women”

The Korean Council
26 February 2021, 3rd International Symposium
Restoring the Right to Justice and Truth

Implications of the ruling for Japanese military “comfort women” in 2021

Kim, Chang Rok   Professor, Kyungpook National University Law School
Keynote Speech: Korean Court's Historic Ruling in January 2021

I. Declaration that opened a new era

○ On January 8, 2021, the Seoul Central District Court Civil Chamber 34 accepted the claim for damages filed by 12 victims of Japanese military “comfort women” and ordered the Japanese government to make reparations by compensating 100 million won per plaintiff. The Japanese government, which did not participate in any of the proceedings, did not appeal until the deadline, and the ruling was finalized at midnight on January 23. Now only the execution of the ruling remains.

○ As the defendant Japanese government did not participate, the only issue of concern in the lawsuit was state immunity, a principle of customary international law that states, “sovereign states cannot be tried in courts of other states.” The ruling declared that an exception to state immunity should be applied when the lawsuit is the final measure of remedy for victims of serious human rights violations caused by crimes against humanity.○ The ruling once again evolved the international law of state immunity, which was established as an absolute principle under the ideology of sovereignty equality in the 19th century and has evolved into one that does not apply to private acts of a state, to one that does not apply to grave human rights violations by crimes against humanity.

○ The ruling declared exemption of state immunity for damages of sexual slavery, taking a step further from rulings by the Greek and Italian courts that declared exemption of state immunity for massacres and forced labor. Now courts around the world that face the issue of state immunity in cases of grave human rights violations are challenged to go beyond the new framework set by these rulings to adhere to the “old international law.”

○ The Korean court's ruling in 2021 opened a new era in which human rights are put ahead of the strong framework of a sovereign state system, reflecting the trend of human society that has strived to spread values of human rights. .....

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