POWs/Forced Labor: Japan

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Hiroshima

Filed: December 11, 1995

In late 1995, South Korean Pak Chang Hwan asked Japanese authorities from the Regional Legal Affairs Bureau in Hiroshima to pay him for outstanding wartime wages due to him for forced labor he conducted in Hiroshima during WWII.  Pak had been demanding these wages be paid for work he provided Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. (MHI) between September 1944 and August 1945.  On December 9, 1995, the Japanese authorities in Hiroshima refused to pay Pak his outstanding wages.  The Regional Legal Affairs Bureau dismissed the demand on the grounds that such claims were settled by the 1965 Japan-Korea Basic Treaty. 

On December 11, 1995, six Koreans, led by Pak, filed a suit against the Japanese government and MHI–Hiroshima at the Hiroshima District Court, demanding 66 million in outstanding wages, damages and compensation for forced conscription, forced labor, and illness relating to the atom bomb (10 million each for damages, 450, 000 each in unpaid wages, and other expenses).  The plaintiffs argued that they were victims of the atomic bombing in Hiroshima since they were illegally forced to work at the MHI plant during the war and have been neglected since the war’s end without receiving any compensation.  The defendants argued that there was no rule to admit the plaintiff’s demand under Japan’s prewar constitution and that the plaintiff’s right to claims lapsed with the signing of the 1965 Japan-South Korea Basic Treaty. 

On August 29, 1996, 40 others joined the suit to increase the number of plaintiffs to 46.  The sum of compensation demanded also rose to about 465 million (10 million each in compensation, 90,000 each in unpaid wages). 

The Hiroshima Social Insurance Bureau announced on November 28, 1996 that it would pay out withdrawal allowances to the plaintiffs.  The Bureau said that the allowance would be around 40 per person, as designated at the time of their employment.  The plaintiffs first declared their refusal to accept the withdrawal allowance but on February 27, 1997, they reversed their decision and accepted the allowance.  However, they donated it to the Japanese Red Cross Society as a token for their wartime sufferings. 

On May 14, 1998, 6 more South Korean former-forced laborers joined the suit.  The men sought a total of 67 million in damages and unpaid wages (10 million each in compensation, 450, 000 each in unpaid wages), bringing the entire case’s claim against the government and MHI to roughly 530 million. 

The Hiroshima District Court dismissed the suit on March 25, 1999.  On the issue of state responsibility, the court said that forced transport and forced labor took place as an act of state authority; however, as these actions took place under the Meiji Constitution, the court did not see the state as having any responsibility to compensate.  On the issue of Mitsubishi responsibility, the court ruled that the statute of limitations had expired, thereby removing responsibility from the company to compensate.

The plaintiffs appealed the case, sending it to the Hiroshima High Court.  The case continues on appeal.