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Japan sticks to its story over use of Korean forced labor


Japan continued to assert its views on its historical use of forced labor, an issue at the crux of an ongoing diplomatic spat between Japan and Korea, at a regular human rights peer review session at the UN office in Geneva on Tuesday.

“It is difficult to simply explain how former civilian workers from the Korean Peninsula flowed into the Japanese mainland from the Korean Peninsula at that time as they did so in various ways,” said Takao Imafuku, deputy assistant minister of Japan’s Foreign Ministry at the Japan review session of the Universal Periodic Review.

“In addition to individual travel of their own free will, there may have been recruitment, official placement and requisition,” he said. “The government of Japan considers the work or service provided through the recruitment, official placement and requisition does not constitute forced labor of the Forced Labor Convention and that it is inappropriate to describe them as forced labor.”

The Universal Periodic Review is a regular peer review of human rights situations of the member states. Each country gets a review in every four to five years.

Imafuku’s comments are consistent with the Japanese government’s exisiting position on the forced labor issue. 

Around 220,000 Koreans were forced to work in Japan during Japan’s occupation of Korea between 1910 and 1945, according to a fact-finding commission affiliated with the Prime Minister’s office in Seoul. 

Organizations like the Foundation for Victims of Forced Mobilization by Imperial Japan places the estimate at 7,534,429, including Koreans forced to work in Korea, China, Japan and elsewhere.

Japan claims the issue was settled when Korea and Japan signed a treaty to normalize relations in 1965.

Under the treaty, Japan gave Korea $300 million in economic aid and $500 million in loans, something Japan claims resolved all compensation issues related to its colonial rule.

Some Korean forced labor victims disagreed and sued the Japanese companies where they worked.

The issue blew up in 2018, when the Korean Supreme Court ruled in favor of the victims.

The Supreme Court on Oct. 30, 2018 ordered Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal, renamed Nippon Steel, to pay 100 million won ($80,270) each to Korean victims of Japanese forced labor during World War II.

The Supreme Court made a similar ruling on Nov. 29, 2018 against Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

With these rulings, Korea’s top court acknowledged the illegality of Japan’s 1919-45 colonial rule and recognized that individuals’ rights to compensation had not expired.

Both Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi refused to comply with the top court’s decisions, and the victims filed another case requesting the liquidation of assets of two Japanese companies to compensate forced labor victims.

The Supreme Court in Korea has yet to rule on the latest case.

The Foreign Ministry in Seoul, since the start of the Yoon Suk Yeol administration in May, has been trying to negotiate between Japan and the victims for a resolution. 

It proposed on Jan. 12 that it may be legally feasible for Korean corporates to make donations to a public fund to compensate the victims, and replace the option of liquidating the Japanese corporate assets. 

Since facing a strong backlash from victims involved in the lawsuits against Japanese corporates, the ministry has been calling for “sincere response from Japan” that could include contributions from Japanese companies to a compensation fund Korea intends to set up with donations from Korean companies, and apologies from the Japanese government or companies.

In recent statements, the ministry also hinted that the ongoing negotiations with Japan, largely conducted on the director-general level, may need to be conducted at a higher level.

Korea-Japan relations deteriorated rapidly following the Supreme Court’s landmark rulings in 2018, with Japan placing export restrictions on Korea, hurting its semiconductor industry, and Korea threatening to walk out of its military intelligence pact with Japan.

The leaders of the two countries have stopped visiting each other, limiting their meetings to discussions on the sidelines of international forums such as the Asean summit in Cambodia last November, when President Yoon Suk Yeol met with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida for 45 minutes.

Foreign Minister Park Jin said he may meet with his Japanese counterpart Yoshimasa Hayashi at the security conference in Munich, Germany. 

“There may be an opportunity to meet,” Park told reporters at the Incheon Airport before he flew to New York, adding that he is considering attending the Munich Security Conference scheduled from Feb. 17 to 19.

The Korean representative at the UN in Geneva, Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative Yoon Seong-mee also raised the comfort women issue during the review session on Tuesday.

“Regarding the recommendations of the UN human rights mechanisms on the issue of comfort women, we hope that our two countries will continue to work closer together to restore honor and dignity and heal the psychological wounds of the victims,” she said. 

“Comfort women” is the euphemistic expression for victims of Japanese wartime sexual slavery. 

The issue was also raised by the North Korean representative at the review.

Imafuku said that Japan will “continue its efforts” to ensure that “Japan’s views and efforts on the comfort women issue” is recognized by the international community “based on an objective understanding of relevant facts.”

Source : Korean Joon Gang Daily