Two South Korean victims of Japan's wartime sex slavery Tuesday filed a defamation suit against the Japanese government and companies with a US court, demanding an apology and compensation for insulting them by labeling them prostitutes.
The victims, including Yoo Hee-nam, 87, lodged a civil suit at a federal court in San Francisco against the Japanese government, the late Japanese Emperor Hirohito, former Japanese Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi and seven Japanese companies, including Mitsui and Mitsubishi, their lawyer said.
The victims have demanded $20 million (S$24,000) in punitive damages each, for the wartime atrocities committed by Japan and its firms, and also for their continued denial of forcing South Korean women into sexual enslavement.
"The Japanese government is practically insulting those victims by calling them voluntary prostitutes," said Kim Hyung-jin, a lawyer for the victims, at a news conference held in Washington. "It is like calling the prisoners in Auschwitz as 'voluntary workers,'" he said.
The victims are among a dozen Korean victims who had announced in June that they would take Japan to court in the US if Tokyo did not make a sincere apology by the end of that month.
They planned to take legal action in the US because their previous attempts to make Japan apologise failed in South Korea and Japan. Victims have won similar cases in Seoul, but South Korean courts have no execution power to force Japan to deliver an apology or provide compensation. Also, they can hardly win the case in Tokyo, the lawyer told a local newspaper. Though the US court has no jurisdiction over crimes committed by Japan, the suit in itself has significance as they were illegal acts against humanity that goes beyond jurisdiction or statute of limitation, the lawyer had explained.
The legal case was filed at a court in California on the same day US lawmakers marked the eighth anniversary of a landmark 2007 House of Representatives resolution urging Japan to acknowledge and take responsibility for its atrocities committed during the World War II.
On the 8th anniversary of the landmark resolution, Rep, Mike Honda urged Japan to learn from Germany by institutionalizing a legal tool that makes it a crime to deny wartime historical facts.
"We know that German Chancellor Merkel has told Abe when he visited Germany, 'You know, we faced our past and we made our apologies. In fact, I think we even have a law in Germany that if you say that the death camps did not exist, you will be fined for a violation of a law there,'" he said during an event held to mark the resolutions anniversary.
During a weeklong visit to the US in April, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe failed to apologise to victims of Japan's wartime atrocities.
The Japanese leader is expected to issue another statement next month to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.
"Prime Minister Abe has the historic opportunity to take leadership and doing something and saying, 'You are right. We were wrong. We apologise. We will pass a law that says our textbooks will teach our youngsters what happened in the past so it won't happen in the future,'" said Honda.
US House of Representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi also said Abe should make a clearer statement on the country's sexual slavery of women during the war.
In a meeting with South Korean lawmakers, Pelosi said she regrets that Abe has not made a clear statement on the issue, according to Rep. Na Kyung-won, chairwoman of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee. Na was accompanying ruling Saenuri Party chairman Kim Moo-sung on his eight-day trip to the US