Japan's top court yesterday rejected demands for compensation by a group representing South Koreans who had been forced into prostitution or conscription by the Japanese military before and during World War II, a court official said.
Supreme Court Justice Osamu Tsuno upheld an appeals court ruling rejecting the group's demands for 20 million yen (US$194,550) for each of the 35 plaintiffs, among them six women who had been forced into sexual slavery by Japanese soldiers decades ago, court spokesman Naoki Katayama said.
The plaintiffs group also included relatives of victims who had died.
Yesterday's verdict was the third by the Supreme Court to deal with Japan's wartime abuses.
The court had rejected the two previous cases -- both in March last year, brought by former sex slaves -- saying it wasn't the appropriate authority to rule because Japan's postwar constitution hadn't been violated. Dozens of similar lawsuits are still pending in the courts.
Public broadcaster NHK cited the Supreme Court as saying yesterday that the government couldn't be held responsible for legal claims tied to events that predate the country's 1947 Constitution.
The top court's ruling came 13 years after the South Korean group filed the suit at the Tokyo District Court in 1991. A year later, more relatives of former sex slaves and soldiers joined the lawsuit.
Kenichi Takagi, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the verdict quashes the hope of many of Asia's wartime victims seeking compensation through Japan's courts.
"Japan has a serious responsibility to settle the issue" of its wartime atrocities, Takagi said.
The Japanese government has acknowledged that its wartime army established brothels and forced thousands of Koreans into military service during Japan's 1910 to 1945 brutal colonization of Korea. But it has refused to pay direct or official compensation to individuals, saying such claims were settled through postwar peace treaties.
In March 2001, the district court said too much time had passed for the plaintiffs to seek redress for the alleged wartime abuses. It also ruled that international laws banning sexual slavery don't require restitution.
The plaintiffs group appealed. But while the Tokyo High Court acknowledged last year that the Japanese government had failed to keep the Koreans out of harm's way, the court also said the government wasn't responsible for paying them compensation.