Commentary for Panel Discussion

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

Commentary for Panel Discussion on Decision by Seoul Central District Court

Ustinia (Tina) Dolgopol   Associate Professor, College of Business, Government and Law, Flinders University & Former chief prosecutor at 2000 Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal
Panel 1 Tackling Impunity of Wartime Sexual Violence

The Seoul Central District Court is to be commended for its thorough consideration of the issues facing the women plaintiffs who have sought damages for the pain and suffering they endured due to their experiences as ‘Comfort Women.’ Bertrand Russell once observed: ‘[t]he dilemma is the same in every country. There are great injustices and laws fail.’ Sadly until this point in time the ‘Comfort Women’ have been faced with this dilemma every time they have sought redress through the courts of Japan and the United States.

All lawyers are aware that law and justice are not synonymous terms. However it is incumbent on those in the legal profession to think more broadly about the ethical implications of the legal questions before them. Ethics includes considering the effect of your decision-making on society at large. To continually deny compensation to individuals who have suffered from grave violations of international law raises the possibility that both the law and the institutions administering the law will be brought into disrepute. It would undermine democracy in all of our countries if the public came to believe that the law only served the interests of the powerful and either would not or could not meet the needs of those whose lives were profoundly affected by some of the most heinous crimes imaginable.

The cultural and social contexts that define the content and operation of the law continues to have a negative impact on women. In many legal systems behaviours that target women may not be addressed in their domestic legal system or if it is part of a legal code its interpretation and enforcement by the courts is not sufficient to give women equal protection of the law. This issue has been a source of concern for a range of United Nations Treaty bodies as well as the Commission on Human Rights and UN Women. ...

Download pdf