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 order?
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 Agreement.
=================================================================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 unfortunate history.
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.