Scholars ask Japanese government to compensate for colonial victims
By Chung Min-uck
Scholars from Korea and Japan on Friday jointly called on the Japanese government to take concrete measures to take responsibility for its colonial rule on Korea (1910-1945).
“Japan has yet to completely resolve its colonial liability, including for claims made by individual victims, such as Korean comfort women and forced Korean labors to whom Japanese companies owe $5 billion in unpaid wages,” said Lee Jang-hie, a law school professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. He made the remark during an international conference held at the state-run Northeast Asian History Foundation (NAHF) in Seoul.
“Looking at the cases in Western countries and Africa the compensation is being sought at an individual level,” said Yoko Nagahara, a professor at the Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa of Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. “Colonized nations had been silent on the issue so far. I guess it is time for the past wrongdoings to be properly dealt with.”
However, despite the calls, doubt still remains over whether or not the solutions provided in the gathering can actually motivate Seoul to voice the issue at an inter-governmental level with Tokyo.
“I am not aware of such a conference in NAHF,” said a foreign ministry official in charge of Japan-related duty. “I guess it is the same old story all over again.”
When asked about a possible shift in its position for compensation for Korean citizens who suffered under imperial Japan’s ruling, the official said “we always stick to the same position.”
Seoul, like Tokyo, has long adhered to its stance that Japan already compensated for all the damages inflicted upon Korea under colonial rule, including the suffering of ordinary Koreans, including the sexual enslavement of Korean women and forcible mobilization of Korean laborers.
Article 2 of the Treaty on Basic Relations signed between Korea and Japan in 1965 writes South Korea “cannot claim any kinds of compensation” regarding the nation and its people, and confirms that the issues “have all been settled” through the pact.
The lines have laid grounds for the Korean government to stick to the position and have been the Achilles heel for the victims requesting compensation.
Under the agreement, Seoul received $800 million in grants and loans, exempting Tokyo of any responsibility.
Only one ministry official from the International Legal Affairs Bureau attended the NAHF conference apart from the official duty, according to the ministry.
Sources say, in the process of preparation, the NAHF struggled to secure necessary funding from the government to host the annual conference this year because Seoul’s official stance does not mirror the aims of the conference.
Scholars and civic groups here and in Japan had high hopes for the Korean government to touch on the unresolved issue following the landmark ruling by the Korean Supreme Court on May 24. The ruling recognized the individual’s right to claim compensation for damages incurred from the colonial occupation.
Last August, the Korean Constitutional Court also said the government was being unconstitutional by not acting to resolve the comfort women issue with Japan.
However, experts worry the absence of the government’s involvement will fail to add momentum in pushing for a payback from Japan.
Meanwhile, Japanese professors such as Osamu Ota of the Doshisha University also participated in the conference as presenters echoing Korean citizens’ request for proper compensation from Japan.
The annual international conference hosted by the NAHF on Korea-Japan relations has been held since 2009. This time scholars shared their views under the theme of “Reexamination of the System of the Korean-Japan Treaty in 1965 and Responsibility for Colonial Rule.”
The state-run historical institution was founded in 2006 with the goal of resolving past conflicts in Northeast Asia