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Yeo Woon Taek v. New Nippon Steel Corporation

  • Seokwoo Lee (a1) and Seryon Lee (a2)

Extract

On October 30, 2018, the South Korean Supreme Court, in an 11–2 decision, upheld the judgment of the lower court, which ordered New Nippon Steel Corporation, a Japanese company, to provide KRW 100 million (approximately USD 84,000) in compensation to each of the four plaintiffs, who were forced to work at Japanese steel mills during World War II. In an earlier 2012 decision, the Supreme Court remanded the case after holding that the claims were not precluded by the Agreement on the Settlement of Problems Concerning Property and Claims and the Economic Cooperation Between the Republic of Korea and Japan (Claims Agreement). The Supreme Court held that the Claims Agreement was not a result of negotiation about compensation for Japanese colonization, but rather was a political agreement the purpose of which was to resolve the financial and civil debt/credit relationship between Korea and Japan. On the final appeal, the Supreme Court concluded that plaintiffs’ claims were directly related to the illegality of Japan's colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula and that the rights of the victims of forced labor to make a compensation claim did not fall within the scope of the Claims Agreement.

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References

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1 Supreme Court of Korea, 2013 Da 61381, Decided on Oct. 30, 2018 (S. Kor.). The English translation of the judgment is available at 7 Korean J. Int’ & Comp. L. 88 (2019) (editorially noted and translated by Seokwoo Lee and Seryon Lee). Page numbers refer to the Korean version of the official judgment.

2 Supreme Court of Korea, 2009 Da 68620, Decided on May 24, 2012 (S. Kor.). The English translation of the judgment is available at 2 Korean J. Intl & Comp. L. 93 (2014) (editorially noted and translated by Seokwoo Lee). See also Seokwoo Lee and Youngkwan Cho, Historical Issues Between Korea and Japan and Judicial Activism: Focus on the Recent Supreme Court Decision on Japanese Forced Labor, 2 Korean J. Int’l & Comp. L. 5 (2014).

3 583 UNTS 173. The official texts are in the Korean and Japanese language, although an English version is provided by each country. The PDF version of the agreement includes related Protocols, exchange of notes, and agreed minutes along with the Claims Agreement and is available at https://treaties.un.org/doc/Publication/UNTS/Volume%20583/v583.pdf.

4 Supreme Court (2012), supra note 2, at 104.

5 After the First Korean-Japan Talks began, seven preliminary meetings were held along with numerous preparatory meetings, political talks, and subcommittee meetings between 1951 and 1965, which all culminated in the conclusion of the Treaty on Basic Relations and the Claims Agreement. Supreme Court (2018), supra note 1, at 7.

6 Article 4(a) reads that:

Subject to the provisions of paragraph (b) of this Article, the disposition of property of Japan and of its nationals in the areas referred to in Article 2, and their claims, including debts, against the authorities presently administering such areas and the residents (including juridical persons) thereof, and the disposition in Japan of property of such authorities and residents, and of claims, including; debts, of such authorities and residents against Japan and its nationals, shall be the subject of special arrangements between Japan and such authorities. The property of any of the Allied Powers or its nationals in the areas referred to in Article 2 shall, in so far as this has not already been done, be returned by the administering authority in the condition in which it now exists. (The term nationals whenever used in the present Treaty includes juridical persons.)

Treaty of Peace with Japan, Sept. 8, 1951, 3 UST 3169; 136 UNTS 45, available at https://treaties.un.org/doc/Publication/UNTS/Volume%20136/volume-136-I-1832-English.pdf.

7 Seoul Administrative Court, 2002 Gu-Hap 33943, Decided on Feb. 13, 2004 (S. Kor.) (on file with authors).

8 For the main contents of the documents and relevant information on this Committee, see Supreme Court (2018), supra note 1, at 9–10.

9 Seoul District Court, 2005 Ga-Hap 16473, Decided on Apr. 3, 2008 (S. Kor.). The English translation of the judgment is available at 2 Korean J. Int'l & Comp. L. 68 (2014) (editorially noted and translated by Seokwoo Lee). Korea's Civil Act stipulates in Article 766 that:

  1. (1)

    (1) the right to claim for damages resulting from an unlawful act shall lapse by prescription if not exercised within three years commencing from the date on which the injured party or his/her legal representative becomes aware of such damage and of the identity of the person who caused it.

  2. (2)

    (2) The provisions of paragraph (1) shall also apply if ten years have lapsed from the time when the unlawful act was committed.

The English translation of the above Civil Act is provided by the Korea Legislation and Research Institute, available at https://elaw.klri.re.kr/kor_service/main.do.

10 Seoul High Court, 2008 Na 49129, Decided on July 16, 2009 (S. Kor.). The English translation of the judgment is available at 2 Korean J. Int'l & Comp. L. 89 (2014) (editorially noted and translated by Seokwoo Lee).

11 Supreme Court (2012), supra note 2, at 101.

12 Id.

13 Seoul High Court, 2012 Na 44947, Decided on July 10, 2013, at 122–26 (S. Kor.). The English translation of the judgment is available at 2 Korean J. Int'l & Comp. L. 109 (2014) (editorially noted and translated by Seokwoo Lee).

14 Id. at 128–29.

15 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, Art. 32, May 23, 1969, 1155 UNTS 331.

16 Treaty of Peace with Japan, supra note 6.

17 Supreme Court of Japan (2d Petty Bench), Nishimatsu Construction Co. v. Song Jixiao (Apr. 27, 2007) (Japan), available at http://www.courts.go.jp/english/judgments/text/2007.04.27-2004.-Ju-.No..1658.html.

18 Court Approves Seizure of Japanese Steelmaker's Assets Over Forced Labor Ruling, Yonhap News Agency (Jan. 8, 2019).

19 The Constitutional Court of Korea reached a decision in 2011 concerning the issue of “Military Sexual Slavery,” also referred to as “Comfort Women for the Japanese Military,” holding that a dispute of interpretation existed between Korea and Japan as to whether the compensation claims for “Military Sexual Slavery” were extinguished pursuant to Article 2(1) of the Claims Agreement (supra note 3). The Court held that the failure of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to resolve the dispute over the interpretation of Article 3 of the Claims Agreement violated the Constitution. Constitutional Court of Korea, 2006 Hun-Ma 788, Aug. 30, 2011 (23-2(A) KCCR, 366) (S. Kor.). English translation available at http://search.ccourt.go.kr/ths/pr/eng_pr0101_E1.do?seq=1&cname=%EC%98%81%EB%AC%B8%ED%8C%90%EB%A1%80&eventNum=17450&eventNo=2006%ED%97%8C%EB%A7%88788&pubFlag=0&cId=010400. See also Lee, Seokwoo, Nah, Yoonkyeong & Cho, Youngkwan, Historical Issues Between Korea and Japan and Judicial Activism: Focusing on the Recent Decision of the Korean Constitutional Court Concerning Comfort Women, 35 U. Hawai'i L. Rev. 859 (2013). The subsequent events following the Court's decision, including the Comfort Women Agreement in 2015 and the continuing conflict between Korea and Japan over the development and content of the Agreement, indicate a serious deadlock between both sides.

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