Facts regarding the
Judgments of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Korea on the Victims of
Forced Labor during the Japanese Colonial Rule over the Korean Peninsula
The current cases
are legal disputes between private entities. The Government of the Republic of
Korea (ROK) has no intention of turning it into a diplomatic or international
controversy between governments. The following information is provided to prevent any misunderstanding
or confusion that might be caused by unwarranted allegations. Attaching great importance to the
Korea-Japan relations and recalling the lessons of the past under the principle
of truth and justice, the Government of the Republic of Korea reaffirms its
commitment to forge a future-oriented relationship with Japan, while coming to
terms with the past.
1. Do the judgments of the Supreme Court of the
Republic of Korea handed down on 30th October and 29th
November 2018 “overthrow the legal foundation of the bilateral relationship” between
the two countries and “pose a serious challenge” to the post-war international
No, they do not. The judgments were rendered by the Supreme
Court of the Republic of Korea in civil proceedings against private Japanese companies,
granting claims for psychological damages. The executive branch must respect
decisions on legal issues made by the judicial branch, in accordance with the
principle of the separation of powers, which is a fundamental tenet of democracy.
Judgments by the highest court of a state should not come under public criticism
or censure by another government.
The plaintiffs in the cases were among the countless
Korean forced laborers who had been forced to work under harsh conditions and
denied the most basic human rights. Therefore, this issue is fundamentally one
of injustices and human rights violations that were committed in the past. Coming
to terms with this past fully and honestly will serve to strengthen the
foundation of the bilateral relationship between the two countries and the
regional and global order.
2. Do these judgments negate the Agreement on
the Settlement of Problems concerning Property and Claims and on Economic Cooperation
between Japan and the Republic of Korea signed on 22 June 1965?
No, they do not. The judgments pertain
to the claims of individuals against private companies. They do not negate the
validity of the Agreement on the Settlement of Problems concerning Property and
Claims and on Economic Cooperation between the Republic of Korea and Japan (the
“Agreement”), but rather address the scope of the application of the Agreement.
The Supreme Court of the Republic of Korea has decided that,
in light of the internationally accepted rules of treaty interpretation, specific
claims for damages for the psychological distress suffered by the victims of forced
labor had not come under purview of, and therefore had not been settled by the
3. Why does this issue still remain unresolved
despite the 1965 Agreement?
It is a historical fact that, during the unlawful
colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula by Japan and in the course of Japan’s wars
of aggression, many fell victim to illegal acts. Japan should not deny this
In accordance with Article I, paragraph 1(a) of the 1965 Agreement,
Japan provided products and services equivalent to USD 300,000,000 in grants.
However, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Korea considered that this
provision had been made to promote economic cooperation between the two countries
and was unrelated to reparations or compensation to victims of Japan’s unlawful
occupation of the Korean Peninsula for thirty-five years.
The decisions by the Supreme Court of
Korea are reflective of the evolution of judicial processes in democracies that
have increasingly incorporated human rights values over the past half century.
Without taking actions to fully heal the pain and scars
of the victims and genuine endeavors to find lasting solutions to such
historical issues, the relations between the two countries and peoples will be hampered
in realizing their full potential toward the future.
In this regard, it is noteworthy that 133 Japanese
lawyers issued a public statement on 5 November 2018 stating that the issue of
forced labor is fundamentally one of human rights, that a genuine solution acceptable
and satisfactory to the victims is required, and that the judgment of the
Supreme Court of the Republic of Korea reflects the evolution and development of
international human rights law.
A public campaign or the circulation of one-sided
information can only distract from thoughtful endeavors in search of a forward-looking
way to manage the relations between the two governments.