Issues: POWs and Forced Labor

Being a prisoner of war (POW) means being captured by an enemy state and interned at a prison or camp.  During WWII, tens of thousands of Allied personnel became prisoners of the Japanese military. As a result of the maltreatment, harsh living conditions, or disease, many perished.  As a result, a large number of Japanese as well as some Koreans and Taiwanese employed by the Japanese army, were put on trial after the war.  Moreover, after Japan's surrender, as many as 600,000 Japanese POWs were taken to the U.S.S.R. and condemned to hard labor until the mid-1950s.  Approximately one-tenth died as a result.

Additionally, tens of thousands of civilians—Koreans, Chinese, and other nationals--were conscripted into forced labor for Japan's military and private companies, as were many Allied POWs. Many of them died as a result of the maltreatment, harsh living conditions, or disease. 

Several former POWs and forced laborers have filed lawsuits against Japanese companies, arguing that while the San Francisco Peace Treaty settled claims between states, it did not cover private compensation claims by individuals injured, imprisoned, or forced into labor by private Japanese firms that profited from such labor.  Moreover, they claim that while the U.S. government helped facilitate apologies and compensation for victims of WWII slave labor in Europe, they have worked with Japanese companies to oppose similar efforts for Pacific theater POWs and veterans. 

Opposing these claims, the targeted Japanese firms, the U.S. State Department, and the Japanese government argue that the 1951 Peace Treaty included settlement provisions that covered all claims, including private ones.  Moreover, courts in both countries have dismissed most compensation claims based on either the expiration of the statute of limitations or arguing that the 1951 Treaty settled all claims.  In response to this, the California legislature passed a law in 1999 to extend the statute of limitations on these claims until 2010.  As a result, until the law was found unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003, most U.S. claims were filed in California, and many foreign nationals went to the state to file similar claims. 

Some notable settlements have been made, but most continue in appeal.  Because of the difficulties encountered in courts, many countries’ legislatures have proposed bills to compensate their veterans.