Comfort Women: Japan

Korean victims of the Asia-Pacific War
(including Kim Hak-soon)

Filed: December 6, 1991

On December 6, 1991, 35 members of the Association of Korean Victims filed a lawsuit in Tokyo District Court against the Japanese government for violating their human rights during WWII.  Kenichi Takagi headed the lawyers' group.  For the first time, the plaintiffs included three former 'comfort women' for the Japanese army and were represented by attorney Mizuho Fukushima.  Korean women who were forced into prostitution as comfort women had never before gone public, preferring to maintain their privacy.  The other 32 plaintiffs included 13 male Koreans who were forced into the Japanese Imperial Army and persons who lost family members during WW II.

The plaintiffs demanded: 1) an official apology; 2) compensatory payment to survivors in lieu of full reparation - each plaintiff asked for 20 million (US$154,000); 3) a thorough investigation of their cases; 4) the revision of Japanese school textbooks identifying this issue as part of the colonial oppression of the Korean people; and 5) the building of a memorial museum.

According to the lawsuit, Kim Hak-soon, the first woman who made a public statement in August 1991 that she was forced to serve as a comfort woman, claimed that she was abducted from her home in Pyongyang in 1941 at the age of 16 and forced by the Japanese imperial army to work as a prostitute in northern China.  She claimed that she was given a Japanese name, "Aiko," and was forced to have sexual intercourse with Japanese soldiers, as many as 20-30 a day.  Another woman claimed that she was taken to Shanghai and beaten when she refused to have sex with Japanese soldiers.  She further stated that due to numerous assaults she was not able to have children.  Another woman claimed that she was taken to Rabaul, Papua New Guinea where she served a comfort woman.

Following the December 6, 1991 lawsuit the Japanese government reversed an earlier claim that it bore no responsibility for World War II comfort women and stated that it was prepared to consider the sufferings of an unknown number of Korean women forced to provide sex for Japanese soldiers. (Cabinet Secretary Koichi Kato's statement from July 6, 1992).

On March 26, 2001 the Tokyo District Court dismissed the compensation demand.  Presiding Judge Shoichi Maruyama, while admitting that the plaintiffs had suffered, stated that individual victims' claims for damages against the victimizer country were not thought to be acceptable under international law.  He ruled out compensating individual South Koreans for wartime damage stating that the redress issue was settled by a 1965 bilateral agreement between Japan and South Korea which normalized their relations. 

The plaintiffs appealed the decision in March 2001.  On July 22, 2003 the Tokyo High Court rejected the appeal, but ruled that the Japanese government failed to fulfill its obligation to provide security for several plaintiffs.  Presiding Judge Sueo Kito stated that the Japanese government at the time had an obligation to protect the comfort women from danger, but ruled that their right to demand compensation had already expired.  According to the ruling, the high court stated that it was difficult to conclude that the Japanese government was not to be held liable for damages claims by former soldiers and civilian workers relating to the period before 1947, when the national redress law took effect in Japan. 

The Supreme Court upheld the Tokyo High Court’s rule, and rejected the appeal on November 29, 2004. (The Japanese text of the court's decision)