Japan Is Finally Facing the Issue of Slave Labor in World War II





Minami Norio, in Japan Focus (July 2004)

As many as 72 wartime forced labor compensation lawsuits were filed between the 1990s and January 1, 2004). In March the Niigata District Court returned a landmark judgment, for the first time ordering the Japanese state to pay compensation in a case concerning the draconian conditions of World War II forced laborers

This is a very busy year for the still unresolved issue of postwar compensation, especially for wartime forced labor. Although the Sapporo District Court dismissed the claims of the Chinese forced laborers' Hokkaido Lawsuit on 23 March, three days later the Niigata District Court returned a landmark judgment in a suit brought by ten Chinese and the bereaved relatives of an eleventh against the Japanese state and the Hong Kong Transportation Company (Rinko Corporation, based in Niigata City), ordering the payment of 8 million yen per person, with a total award of 88 million yen.

Fewer Than 10% of the Nearly 40,000 Forced Labors are Still Alive

A ruling on a similar case involving former forced laborers is slated for 24 May at the Fukuoka High Court. In this case, a lower court decision was returned by the Fukuoka District Court in April 2003 against Mitsui Mining.

It has been estimated that during the war some 38,000 Chinese were forcibly brought to Japan to supplement domestic labor. These people were forced to work under draconian conditions at 135 locations throughout Japan, such as coal mines, metal mines, construction sites, and ports. Of these, just under 7,000 died. Those who survived have been dying one after another in the 59 years since Japan's defeat, so that less than one-tenth of the total number of forced laborers is still alive. They and the bereaved relatives of others strongly desire swift and complete settlement of the issues.

One point of contention is the existence of a report that the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs is alleged to have produced entitled, Investigative Report into Working Conditions of Chinese Workers. This report scrupulously recorded the names, numbers of deaths, causes of death etc. of persons forcibly brought to Japan, but the state insists on making the farfetched claim that it cannot confirm the Report's existence despite the fact that it existed in a Ministry of Foreign Affairs document. During a series of court proceedings it became clear that the government had falsely testified at Diet briefings, claiming that "all copies of the report were incinerated." Representatives of the state have been forced to acknowledge this fact in court and to offer an apology.

The Niigata District Court clearly recognized the realities of forced migration and forced labor. It severely criticized institutional mendacity over wartime reports on workplace conditions, and the continued cover-up of the existence of the Foreign Ministry's Investigative Report as "extremely malicious" and reflecting a "disingenuous attitude."

Another point concerns whether to recognize the prewar legal doctrine of "state immunity" that held the state not liable for unlawful acts. The Niigata District Court rejected claims to "state immunity" as "being inimical to fairness and justice."

Moreover, it rejected all arguments put forward by the state to the effect that "the statute of limitations has expired" or that "right of claim has been abandoned," very clearly recognizing the state’s legal liability.

Concerning resolution of the postwar compensation problem, the opposition Communist and Social Democratic Parties support the victim claims. In addition, the Democratic Party’s Human Rights Research Council (Haraguchi Kazuhiro, chair) has put forward the opinion that, like the kidnapping of Japanese by North Korea, it should be solved as a human rights problem that cannot be ignored, and that damages should be awarded on the basis of facts....


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