“This has relieved a big part of my sorrow….People fulfilled the government’s responsibility instead”
“I am thrilled. I don’t know how to describe this, but it’s almost like I’m floating on air. I hope to finish up this issue as quickly as possible, but I’m worried about our health considering our age. If they (Mitsubishi) file an appeal, we will push this matter through. Students encourage us saying, ‘You can do this,’ and there are many other people who also stand by us. All these supports give me a lot of confidence. It is thanks to these people that we were able to come this far and let go of a huge chunk of our resentment.”
After winning the case against Mitsubishi Heavy Industries on November 1, Yang Geum-deok (82), one of the victims, said during a phone interview with Women's News on November 5, “My deep sorrow is half relieved now.”
“People have stepped up although this was supposed to be the government’s job,” she added, expressing regrets towards government’s lack of action in dealing with this issue.
“I went to Japan when I was in elementary school and I suffered all kinds of immeasurable pain: being beaten up for mistakes, starving, earthquakes, and air strikes. When I finally came back home, people in the neighborhood did welcome me for surviving all this, but at the back of their minds, they thought I was a comfort woman. This broke my parents’ heart who spent many years in tears. I wasn’t paid at all, not even a penny. They said that they will send me (the money) if I go home and wait. 68 years have passed since then, but the government never stood up for us.”
On October 14, Yang appeared as a witness during the inspection on the Prime Minister’s office conducted by the National Policy Committee. While testifying how she was abducted and exploited as a forced laborer, she vented out her resentment against the government’s inaction.
The 12th Civil Division of the Gwangju District Court ruled in favor of the five victims including Yang Geum-deok in their claims for damages that they filed on October 24, 2012. The court awarded each victim KRW 150 million in damages, and KRW 80 million for one bereaved relative. This was the first victory the victims won since their first suit against the Japanese firm in 1999.
Civic Support Group for Victims of Forced Labor welcomed the court’s announcement saying, “Finally, after 68 years from the liberation of Korea, “spring” has come for the victims. Mitsubishi had been maintaining insincere attitude toward the victims during the bilateral negotiations that took place from November, 2011 to July, 2012, and eventually ruined the negotiations that they themselves had agreed upon.” The group also urged for government action saying, “It is hard to understand why the government remains in silence. Apparently, new opportunity has been provided to address the issues concerning victims of the Japanese colonial rule with legal interpretations of the Korea-Japan Agreement on Settlement of Claims.”
The Korean Bar Association (KBA) also released a statement to hail the ruling, dubbing it as “the victory of the rule of law and the groundwork in setting our history straight.” The KBA stated, “The Japanese companies that committed war crimes ignored even the ruling of the Supreme Court of Japan that recommended these companies voluntarily compensate the victims, based on the fact that the claim for damages was still valid. As a result, the victims didn’t have any option but to spend a long time involved in litigations in Korea. Last year, they succeeded winning the case in the Supreme Court, which led to the recent victory in the Gwangju District Court. We hope that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries accept the court’s decision and convey sincere apologies to the victims whose days are numbered by voluntarily giving the wages that are long overdue.”