A South Korean court has ordered the Japanese government to pay damages to a group of people referred to as wartime comfort women. Japan has filed a strong protest with the South Korean side, saying the ruling is highly regrettable and the government can never accept it.
In the ruling handed down on Friday, the Seoul Central District Court ordered the Japanese government to pay 100 million won, or about 91,000 dollars, to each of the 12 plaintiffs, or a total of about 1.1 million dollars.
The 12 South Korean women sought court mediation over compensation in 2013. They later filed a lawsuit, and the first hearing was held in April last year.
The Japanese government has not attended the court proceedings.
It has taken the position that the lawsuit should be dismissed on the basis of sovereign immunity, which is a concept under international law that the state is immune from the civil jurisdiction of the court of a foreign country.
In Friday's ruling, the court did not apply sovereign immunity to the case. It noted that the acts were inhumane criminal acts that were planned and carried out systematically.
The court also noted that the victims suffered from extreme, unimaginable mental and physical pain.
A ruling over a similar lawsuit is due next Wednesday. Twenty plaintiffs, including former comfort women and their bereaved family members, are demanding compensation from the Japanese government.
Japan maintains that all issues of reparations were settled in 1965 when the two countries normalized relations.
In other moves related to reparations, South Korean court rulings have been finalized over wartime labor. The rulings ordered the Japanese companies involved to pay damages to the plaintiffs. Procedures are underway to sell their seized assets.
The latest ruling is highly likely to inflict further damage on already soured bilateral relations.
Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato Katsunobu said the ruling is highly regrettable and the government can never accept it. He told reporters that the government had filed a strong protest with the South Korean side.
Kato said that based on a concept of international law, Japan is immune from the jurisdiction of the court in South Korea. He added that the government has repeatedly maintained that the case should be dismissed.
He said wartime reparation issues were settled completely and finally in 1965 when Japan and South Korea normalized bilateral ties. He said both governments also confirmed in a 2015 bilateral agreement that their dispute over these issues had been resolved finally and irreversibly.
Kato strongly demanded that South Korea take appropriate actions to rectify its position that is in violation of international law.
He added that another lawsuit whose ruling is expected next Wednesday should also be dismissed.
He said the government will strongly demand that the South Korean government take appropriate measures based on the 2015 agreement.
Kato added that the Japanese government will not appeal Friday's ruling, because it is not under the jurisdiction of a South Korean court.