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Top court backs Koreans taken to Japan in WWII

The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled in favor of Koreans seeking compensation for their forced work at Japanese factories during colonial rule.

The top court ordered the retrials of two damages cases filed by the forced workers and their families.

It was the first time, either in Korea or Japan, that they had won a favorable ruling since they started litigation in the mid-1990s.

The two groups of workers were taken to Japan to work for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. and Nippon Steel Corp. in 1941 and 1944. They sued the companies in Japan in 1995 and 1997, demanding they pay unpaid salaries and compensation for their forced work.

After losing the cases, they filed suits in Busan and Seoul in 2000 and 2005. The lower courts and appellant courts dismissed their claims, citing the previous rulings in Japan and the expiration of the statute of limitations.

“The rulings by Japanese courts were based on the assumption that Japan’s colonial rule was legal. This contrasts with the core value of the Korean Constitution, which regards Japan’s forceful mobilization of Koreans during the period as illegal,” the court said.

Five former workers lodged a collective suit against Mitsubishi in Busan in 2000, demanding 606 million won ($520,000) in withheld salaries and compensation for their forced labor and the company’s negligence in caring for their health and safety.

Another four employees filed a similar suit against Nippon Steel in Seoul in 2005.

The plaintiffs were forcefully drafted into hard labor in Japan during World War II, as Korea was then under its colonial rule.

They claimed to have been exposed to life-threatening conditions and to still be suffering from the aftereffects of their mistreatment, including radiation-related illnesses after the atomic bombing by the U.S. in 1945.

By Shin Hyon-hee  (