ROK’s court decision in constitutional suit avoids new friction with Japan
South Korea’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit claiming that the bilateral agreement with Japan that settled claims for wartime compensation was unconstitutional.
The court did not render a judgment on whether the agreement was unconstitutional, so a situation in which the court’s decision would create a new source of friction between the two countries may have been avoided.
The lawsuit was filed by the bereaved family of a South Korean man mobilized by the Japanese government as a civilian employee of the military during the war. His family asserted that a provision in the agreement stipulating that South Korea waives the rights to claim compensation from the Japanese government violates property rights guaranteed under South Korea’s Constitution, and is thus unconstitutional.
The bereaved family had originally filed a lawsuit over the money provided by the South Korean government to victims of those who were “forcibly mobilized.” It was in the course of that litigation that the family made its appeal over the agreement to the Constitutional Court.
As its reason for dismissing the case, the court said its judgment on whether the agreement was unconstitutional would not affect the ruling on the lawsuit (filed by the family regarding the South Korean government’s provision of money).
It also said the family’s claim does not meet the requirements for the case to be examined at the Constitutional Court.
Considering the content of the lawsuit, in which the family calls for an increase in the money provided by the South Korean government, we consider the court’s latest conclusion to be appropriate.
Since the left-leaning government under then South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun said in 2005 that the issue of so-called comfort women had not been settled, the country’s judiciary has apparently tended to interpret the bilateral agreement one-sidedly to favor South Korea.
Room for solution
Had the Constitutional Court ruled that the agreement was unconstitutional, it would have caused serious diplomatic friction, undermining the foundation of the bilateral relationship between Japan and South Korea.
As the court turned away the claim, it effectively left room for the two countries to strike a deal on the issue of so-called comfort women.
Following the court’s ruling, the Foreign Ministry of Japan issued a comment that both countries need to make efforts for the advancement of the bilateral relationship.
The Agreement on the Settlement of Problems Concerning Property and Claims and on Economic Cooperation Between Japan and the Republic of Korea was concluded in 1965, concurrently with the signing of the Treaty of Basic Relations, which established diplomatic relations between Japan and South Korea.
The agreement stipulated that Japan would provide South Korea with a total of $500 million in economic cooperation in the form of grants and loans, and said the problems concerning property and claims between the two countries as well as their people had been settled completely and finally.
South Korea later utilized the cooperation money from Japan to build infrastructure, leading to the country’s economic development. The fact that the bilateral agreement has proved beneficial for both countries deserves praise.
It is hard to understand the very fact that a lawsuit of this kind was filed with the Constitutional Court.
South Korean courts are examining other lawsuits whose outcomes also could affect the bilateral relationship. Particularly worrisome is litigation over former requisitioned workers who were mobilized during the war.
In 2012, the South Korea’s Supreme Court ruled that illegal actions directly linked to the colonial rule were difficult to recognize as subject to the bilateral agreement on property and claims.
High courts that had their rulings remanded by the top court handed down numerous decisions ordering Japanese companies, the former employers of the requisitioned workers, to compensate them. These cases are now being heard again at the top court in South Korea.
The South Korean government earlier took the position that issues related to the former requisitioned workers were also not subject to the bilateral agreement. We hope the top court in Seoul will make level-headed judgments.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 24, 2015)Speech