Anger as court rejects Allied POWs compensation suit
November 26, 1998

TOKYO (CNN) -- A Tokyo court on Thursday ruled against a demand for compensation by a group of soldiers and civilians from several countries held prisoner in Japan during World War II.

The lawsuit was filed three years ago on behalf of 25,000 members of veterans organizations from Britain, the United States, Australia and New Zealand. The decision was the first handed down in Japan in a legal suit brought by former World War II POWs' from Allied countries.

They demanded $22,000 each in compensation for what they claimed were violations of their rights under international treaties and conventions on the treatment of war prisoners.

The court ruled that the issue was resolved in 1951 with the signing of the San Francisco peace treaty.

Presiding judge Shigeki Inoue said in his verdict that because of the 1951 treaty, individuals or groups could not seek compensation from the government. He said compensation issues must be dealt with on the government-to-government level.

Japan broke the rules

Japan forced POWs to work in shipyards, mines and jungles in violation of international law. They were also beaten and some were executed.

The POWs' death rate at the Japanese camps was 27 percent, compared to a 4-percent rate at allied camps.

It was not immediately clear if the former POWs would appeal Thursday's ruling.

"I spit on the doorstep of the Diet (Japanese parliament). There's no justice in this country," British former POW Arthur Titherington said minutes after the ruling.

Representatives of the POWs who traveled to Tokyo from around the world to hear the judgment vowed to fight on.

"We will review and respond to this case. It is not unexpected. We will fight on," said Martin Day, one of the former detainees.

If the ruling had gone in favor of the POWs it would have cost Japan about $450 million in compensation.

Thousands used as slaves

Estimates by supporters and former prisoners of the number of POWs and civilian internees held by the Japanese during World War Two range from 60,000 to 120,000 Dutch, 120,000 to 150,000 British, about 15,000 Americans and 13,000 New Zealanders, as well as thousands of Australians.

Japan has held that it is not liable for compensation because all World War Two claims were settled in 1951 under the San Francisco peace agreements.

Dutch POWs launched a separate lawsuit in 1994, demanding the same redress from Japan. The court is scheduled to rule on their case next Monday.

Chinese and Korean victims, including women forced into sexual slavery and men forced into slave labor, have also filed lawsuits demanding official apologies and compensation.

In one landmark ruling this April, a Japanese district court ordered the government to pay compensation to three Korean women who were forced to work as sex slaves for the Japanese military during the war, although it rejected their demands for an official apology.

There are about 30 compensation cases before Japanese courts, but all past rulings involving POWs have gone against the plaintiffs.

High hopes

Hopes of a favorable ruling were high among the POWs after an official apology was issued by Japan to the South Korean people last month.

In his country's strongest statement to date, Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi apologized to the South Korean people for 35 years of brutal colonial rule, during a state visit by South Korean President Kim Dae-jung.

It was the first written apology ever issued to an individual country by Japan for its actions before and during World War Two II.  


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