Wartime Legal Battles: Korean Verdicts Echo Across Borders


South Korea's Supreme Court upholds a ruling against Nippon Steel, compelling the Japanese company to compensate wartime laborers, reports Japan Times. The decision, finalizing the damages lawsuit, intensifies the historical dispute, challenging Japan's 1965 agreement with South Korea. Japan protests the ruling, claiming a breach of the bilateral pact. The legal landscape reveals a broader trend, with similar cases and seizure requests against Japanese companies. The ongoing saga underscores the complexity of reconciling wartime legacies and national narratives.


In a pivotal verdict, South Korea's Supreme Court dismissed Nippon Steel's appeal, solidifying a lower court's ruling for compensation to South Korean victims of wartime labor at a Japanese plant. The lawsuit, representing individuals, including families of those forced to work during World War II, echoes a broader historical contention between South Korea and Japan.

The Japanese government argues that the matter of wartime labor was settled in the 1965 Japan-South Korea agreement on property and claims. However, the recent decision challenges this stance, emphasizing unresolved grievances.

The statute of limitations for wartime labor damages lawsuits was reaffirmed by the top court, dating back to October 2018. This aligns with the first Supreme Court ruling recognizing Japanese corporate liability for compensation, which ordered Nippon Steel to pay in 2018. December 2023 saw a similar trend, with the top court finalizing verdicts against Japanese companies in five other wartime labor damages lawsuits.

Nippon Steel expressed deep regret over the ruling, citing its conflict with the 1965 agreement. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi denounced the decision, terming it a "clear violation" and lodged a protest with South Korea.

Simultaneously, a separate damages lawsuit against Hitachi Zosen Corp. witnessed a final compensation order on December 28, 2023. The plaintiff side sought approval for the seizure of funds deposited by the Japanese company to prevent asset confiscation. This development hints at a potential legal strategy to secure compensation.

Despite the rulings, no Japanese company has paid or agreed to pay compensation in these wartime labor cases, maintaining a longstanding impasse.


The upheld ruling against Nippon Steel deepens the historical wounds between South Korea and Japan, challenging diplomatic agreements. As legal battles intensify, the complex interplay of national narratives and unresolved wartime legacies comes to the forefront. Japan's strong protest underscores the sensitivity of these issues, signaling prolonged tensions in the quest for acknowledgment and restitution.

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