'Colonial victims entitled to individual compensation'
By Chung Min-uck
A Japanese professor Monday said Korean victims who suffered under Japan’s colonial rule are entitled to compensation from the Japanese government and companies citing the cases of western countries.
“Western nations and firms’ compensation paid to Africa and Asia has been taking place on an individual level for those who suffered from colonization,” said Yoko Nagahara, a professor at the Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa of Tokyo University of Foreign Studies.
“The 1965 treaty between Seoul and Tokyo is an inter-governmental agreement. I think personal compensation is a different issue and thus Korean victims can request payment for damages incurred during colonial rule,” she said during a phone interview with The Korea Times.
As recently as this March, more than 20 South Africans who suffered torture, arrest and other forms of harassment under South Africa’s former apartheid regime successfully pushed the United States car giant General Motors to pay up to $1.5 million for assisting the former white-minority ruled state.
The claimants reportedly launched the suit inspired by the Jewish organization that sued companies that profited using slave labor during World War II.
In 2011, a Netherland’s court ruled the Dutch government liable for Indonesia massacre claims during the Indonesian War for Independence (1945-1949) where Dutch soldiers allegedly executed more than 400 villagers. The decision was made despite the Dutch government’s claim that the statute of limitations had expired.
Also Kenya’s former Mau Mau members who were suppressed by the British military during their resistance movement in the 1950s are successfully pressuring the British government to admit the wrongdoings and pay compensation.
Last year, a London court held the current government responsible, rejecting the claim that the obligation to compensate was transferred to the Kenyan government after independence in 1963.
“Though the situation might be slightly different the core meaning in the Western cases is that the compensation is being sought at an individual level,” said Nagahara. “Colonized nations had been silent on the issue so far. I guess it is time for the past wrongdoings to be properly dealt with.”
The professor, however, underscored that gaining compensation is more likely when direct victims of war crimes are still alive.
“The Namibian law suit against the German government concerning the colonization damages before World War I was dismissed in 2007 as it was launched by victims’ descendants, not by the ones who were directly harmed,” Nagahara said. “Actors should take legal action quickly while the survivors are still alive.”
Regarding the Korean Supreme Court’s landmark decision on May 24 which validated the rights of individuals to make compensation claims, the Japanese professor claims it will push the Korean government to actively back the compensation movement.
“It is really important for the legislative body to side with individual victims,” said the professor. “Initially, the Namibian government had distanced itself from the compensation issue, which it worried might deter the relationship with Germany. However, following the mounting calls to settle the colonial problem, it changed its position to supporting the claims.”
Affected by mounting criticism, Germany officially apologized for the past wrongdoings admitting the Namibian genocide. In 2007, the German government made 20 million Euros available to be used on projects for the affected communities.
“The compensation issue should be dealt from a broader perspective of holding the countries that pursued colonialism in the past responsible,” said the professor. “The value of that surpasses the logic of law.”
The Japanese government and companies have been refusing to compensate for the wartime wrongdoings such as sexual enslavement and forced mobilization of Korean laborers sticking to a long-held position that the issue was resolved through the 1965 Korea-Japan Claims Settlement Agreement in which Seoul received $800 million from Tokyo. The South Korean government adheres to the same position.
The professor is expected to present a related paper at an academic conference organized by the state-run Northeast Asia History Foundation (NAHF), Friday.