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Japanese Firms Duck Comfort Women Suit

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Former comfort women can no longer pursue their class action against six subsidiaries of Japanese companies accused of a conspiracy to force Korean women into sexual slavery during World War II, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

Attorneys for He Nam You and Kyung Soon Kim, two elderly Korean women representing a class of former comfort women, missed a Dec. 28 deadline to file a motion for leave to file a second amended complaint against companies previously dismissed from the suit.

Over the last two months, U.S. District Judge William Alsup dismissed seven companies from the lawsuit, finding claims against them were time-barred and involved a "non-justiciable" political question that would require the court to interpret a treaty between two foreign governments.

The former comfort women accused the corporations of providing the trains, vehicles and vessels - or steel to make the vessels - that moved abducted women to comfort stations where they were held in captivity and forced to have sex "five to 30 times a day" with Japanese soldiers during the war.

Because the Dec. 28 deadline was missed, Alsup stated in his Jan. 6 ruling that "the case is over" as to defendants Mitsubishi, Nissan North America, Toyota Motor Sales, Hitachi America, NYK Line, Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal USA and Mitsui & Co.

A hearing on the women's motion to file a second amended complaint scheduled for Jan. 14 has been vacated.

Last week, the nation of Japan signed a landmark deal with South Korea apologizing for its role in the suffering of comfort women during the war and pledging $8.3 million to victims.

Following the announcement, class attorney Hume Joseph Jung told Courthouse News that while he considers the deal "a good gesture," Japan still refuses to accept full legal responsibility for its role in the wartime crimes against humanity.

Other entities, including the nation of Japan and its prime minister, remain as named defendants in the class action, but as of last week Jung said plaintiffs were unable to officially serve Japan with notice of the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs are also conducting discovery to establish jurisdiction to sue one of Japan's largest newspapers, Sankei Shimbun, which was dismissed from the lawsuit in November for lack of jurisdiction. The newspaper is accused of defaming comfort women by labeling them "voluntary prostitutes."

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