A Japanese court Tuesday threw out a lawsuit by a group of Chinese who sought compensation from the Japanese government and 10 companies for allegedly using them as slave laborers during World War II.
Tokyo District Court Judge Mariko Watahiki dismissed the claims, ruling the government and companies were not responsible for individual damages. Watahiki acknowledged, however, that Japan had systematically used forced laborers in wartime.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 42 Chinese, only 24 of whom are still alive. All are in their 70s.
The Chinese say they were captured by the Japanese military between 1944 and 1945 and sent to work under dangerous conditions mostly in Japan's construction and mining industries. They had sued for a total of 847.5 million yen (US$7.25 million) in damages.
Plaintiffs' lawyer Taizo Morita said he would appeal the decision to the Tokyo High Court.
"Winning this case was something those who died had hoped for," he said.
The case, which began in 1997, is one of several in Japanese and U.S. courts seeking redress for alleged wartime brutalities.
"This is an unjust ... and cruel ruling," said Kong Jian, who traveled from China for the verdict and spoke on behalf of the plaintiffs. "The judge completely ignored our human rights claims."
All but one of the 10 companies - Hazama Corp., Furukawa Co., Tekken Corp., Nishimatsu Construction, Ube Industries, Dowa Mining, Nittetsu Mining, Mitsubishi Materials Corp., Tobishima and Japan Energy Corp. - being sued are publicly listed.
Japan's military shipped up to 800,000 people from China, Korea and other Asian countries in the early 1900s to Japan to work in coal mines and ports.
Hundreds of thousands of others were forced into military service or sexual slavery for Japanese troops.
Kazuyoshi Iwama, a spokesman for Tokyo-based Furukawa, said the copper producer and heavy equipment maker approved of the verdict. He declined to elaborate.
Yesterday's ruling upheld precedents set by previous cases.
Japan's courts have recently ruled that the government and companies broke the law by using forced labor. But they rarely rule in favor of plaintiffs seeking compensation, citing the expiration of a deadline for filing such claims.
Tokyo has generally refused to pay damages to individuals, saying the issue was settled on a government-to-government basis in postwar treaties. That stance has drawn criticism at home and abroad that it remains unrepentant for its wartime wrongs.
(Xinhua News Agency March 11, 2003)