A Tokyo court acknowledged for the first time Japan's use of biological weapons before and during World War II, but rejected Tuesday demands for compensation by 180 Chinese who claimed they were victims of the germ warfare program.
The Tokyo District Court ruled that, under international law, foreign citizens cannot seek compensation directly from the Japanese government.
However, the court acknowledged Japan's germ warfare program existed and that court testimony from the Chinese victims was “reasonable” enough to believe. It was the first time a Japanese court had recognized Japan's use of biological weapons before and during the war.
The case was filed in 1997 by the plaintiffs -- all Chinese citizens -- who had demanded 10 million yen (US$84,000) each.
The plaintiffs claimed at least 2,100 Chinese perished in outbreaks of cholera, dysentery, anthrax and typhoid that were allegedly mass produced by the Imperial Army's notorious Unit 731, which was based in the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin. The court has heard testimony from aging witnesses flown in from China.
The case has been closely followed in Japan because it has unearthed details about the country's biological warfare program that the government and the US occupation forces kept secret after the war.
Some Japanese veterans had testified they mass-produced cholera, dysentery, anthrax and typhoid at the unit's base in Harbin in the early 1940s.
Japan has refused to confirm those accounts. After decades of denial, Tokyo acknowledged the existence of Unit 731 several years ago, but has yet to disclose details of the unit's activities.
New details of Japan's wartime germ project have emerged from recently declassified documents that were confiscated from Japan by the United States after the war. Hundreds of thousands of pages of documents relating to Unit 731 released over the past year have included such things as medical reports from human dissections and formulae for deadly bacteria.
Historians now estimate that the unit may have killed as many as 250,000 people in their experiments during the 1930s-40s, when Japanese troops occupied much of China. Many of the killings were carried out before World War II began to turn against Japan.
None of the unit's members has been tried for the alleged wartime activities.
Despite criticism both at home and abroad that Japan has not fully shown remorse for its wartime brutality, the government has refused to pay individuals damages.
Although courts have ruled that companies can be held accountable for wartime crimes, they have said that Japan's postwar treaties and prewar constitution insulates the government from similar lawsuits.
In March, the Tokyo High Court threw out a case filed by Allied soldiers and civilians who claimed Japan violated their rights under international treaties. Skirting the issue of whether the claims were valid, the court ruled that foreign citizens cannot seek compensation on such grounds directly from the Japanese government.
(China Daily August 27, 2002)