South Korean Comfort Women Lawsuit Rejected by Court


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In 2016, there were twelve former South Korean comfort women who sought to receive approximately $90,000 in damages from the South Korean government from a lawsuit. It was based on a bilateral agreement with Japan that was signed in 2015 to settle the issue. These are women who were forced to work in Japanese military brothels. They claimed to have suffered both mental and financial damages because of their time working as comfort women. A South Korean court rejected their lawsuit.

Filing Lawsuit

With the help of the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, the twelve plaintiffs filed their lawsuit. This council is a civic group that does not agree with the 2015 agreement with Japan. Under this agreement, Japan agreed to apologize and express its remorse to the former Japanese brothel workers. Japan acknowledged their suffering and gave $8.8 million to a foundation in South Korea. This is a foundation dedicated to providing necessary support for the surviving Japanese brothel workers.

Lawsuit Rejected

A court in South Korea rejected the lawsuit filed by the former Japanese brothel workers for compensation. The 2015 agreement was acknowledged in the court’s ruling. It stated that the agreement was not clear on many important points in the document. In its summation, the South Korean court argued that during the process of reaching a bilateral agreement for the purposes of diplomatic negotiations, the government of Japan was not conducting activities that could not be considered at the time to be illegal. The lawyer representing the former Japanese brothel workers plans to file an appeal to the court’s decision.

Victim’s Rights Nullified

In the 2016 lawsuit, the former Japanese brothel workers claimed the South Korean government had nullified their rights to seek damages directly from Japan by entering into the 2015 agreement. When the government signed the 2015 agreement with Japan, it did not require them to take additional responsibility.

Constitutional Court Ruling

The former Japanese brothel workers also stated the 2015 agreement with Japan violated the South Korean Constitution Court Ruling of 2011. In this ruling, the government of South Korea promised to offer its cooperation and protection to its citizens. It identified these citizens as individuals who had their values and human dignity violated. The violation must have occurred through illegal acts conducted by Japan. The ruling also stated these citizens are permitted to invoke their rights and seek compensation for damages from Japan.

Agreement Viewed As Wrong

A South Korean government task force provided a report on the failures of the 2015 agreement. The report stated the problem with the agreement was the faulty process used to create it. According to the report, the negotiations for the 2015 deal took place in secret. It did not request any input from the surviving victims. Japan did not acknowledge the validity of the documents associated with the negotiations. A poll was taken about the 2015 agreement. Approximately 60 percent of South Koreans viewed the 2015 agreement as wrong.

Relations With Japan

The South Korean government has worked to remove disputes over historical events and has instead focused on cooperation with Japan. It is interested in coordination with the Japanese government when it comes to dealing with North Korea and many other issues. A poll showed that two-thirds of South Koreans support this approach to these issues. The majority of South Koreans are not demanding a quick resolution to the issue of comfort women.

Three of the 12 former Japanese brothel workers who were part of the lawsuit have passed away. On the day of the hearing, the women were unable to attend for health reasons. The South Korean government is working hard to develop a balance between regional security and encouraging transparency in their country. South Korea needs the support and assistance of the Japanese government to effectively address many international issues.


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