A South Korean court plans to conduct a trial over compensation to victims of sexual slavery under the Japanese imperial military, known euphemistically as the comfort women, via service by publication in response to the Japanese government’s refusal to accept related documents for over two years.
During that time, five of the 11 comfort women survivors who filed the lawsuit have passed away.
The 15th civil affairs division of Seoul Central District Court (under judge Yu Seok-dong), which is handling the comfort women compensation case, announced on Mar. 12 that it had served translated copies of the accusation and a lawsuit guidance document to the Japanese government on Mar. 8. Under the service by publication format, legal and other documents are regarded as having been served once posted on the court website or elsewhere for a certain period of time. It is used when one of the parties has an unknown address or refuses to accept the documents in question. According to the terms of the Civil Procedure Act, the service by publication in this case is to enter effect in two months as of midnight on May 9.
“As a rule, legal documents are delivered directly to the party, but the court appears to have ultimately decided on service by publication after repeated attempts at delivery revealed that this approach would not be possible,” explained a court official.
On Dec. 28, 2016, a group of 20 plaintiffs – including 11 comfort women survivors and family members of six others who had passed away – filed suit against the Japanese government, claiming “enormous psychological and physical suffering due to the Japanese government forcing [the survivors] to live as ‘comfort women.’” In the two years and three months since the complaint was received by the court, no full-fledged hearings have yet taken place. The reason stems from the Japanese government’s repeated refusals to accept documents in connection with the case. The civil suit in a South Korean court can only begin once the accusation has been delivered to a Japanese court.
According to established rules regarding international judicial assistance on civil cases, documents in connection with the lawsuit are to proceed from South Korean court to the court president, the court administration, the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the South Korean embassy in Japan, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and on to a Japanese court. But the Japanese government has repeatedly refused to accept the documents, with the Minister of Justice declaring in April and August 2017 and again in November 2018 that the case was regarded as “violating sovereignty.” While the Japanese government has refused to cooperate with the trial, five comfort women survivors and plaintiffs have passed away: Lee Sang-hee in 2017, An Jeom-soon and Kim Bok-deuk in 2018, and Kim Bok-dong and Gwak Ye-nam in 2019.
“As the trial has dragged on due to the Japanese government’s irresponsible behavior, some of the elderly survivors have passed away,” said attorney Lee Sang-hee of the firm Jihyang Law, which is representing the survivors.
“The real violation of international law is the ignorance of international agreements and refusal of document service. The Japanese government needs to start adopting a responsible attitude toward this trial right now,” Lee stressed.
By Ko Han-sol, staff reporter, Hankyoreh