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Thursday, June 13, 2024 | Back issues
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Judge Dismisses Comfort Women’s Claim on Japan

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — After almost a year of litigation, a federal judge permanently dismissed a class action accusing Japan and its major corporations of conspiring to force Korean women into sexual slavery during World War II.

Hee Nam You and Kyung Soon Kim sued Japan, its prime minister and a host of people and corporations in July 2015, accusing them of committing or aiding in crimes against humanity.

You and Kim say they were kidnapped from their homes in Korea in the early 1940s and made to serve as "comfort women" for the pleasure of Japanese soldiers.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup last year dismissed seven companies from the lawsuit —including Mitsubishi, Toyota and Nissan — 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 women accused the companies of providing the trains, vehicles and vessels — or steel to make the vessels — that took them to comfort stations where they were held in captivity and forced to have sex "five to 30 times a day" with Japanese soldiers.

After the plaintiffs' attorneys missed a deadline to file a second amended complaint against those companies in December 2015, Alsup permanently dismissed them from the suit.

Alsup also dismissed one of Japan's largest media companies, Sankei Shimbun, from the litigation last year, finding the Tokyo-based newspaper could not be sued in the United States.

The women accused the newspaper of defaming them by calling them "voluntary prostitutes" in articles and editorials.

Alsup granted the plaintiffs' motion to conduct discovery on the issue of jurisdiction, but in his June 21 ruling he said they failed to establish jurisdiction to sue the publication in the United States.

"Sankei's only direct presence in the United States was its newsgathering bureaus," Alsup wrote. "This is an insufficient basis to find that Sankei is 'essentially at home' in the United States."

Alsup also found that because the plaintiffs never served other defendants in the lawsuit, including the nation of Japan and its prime minister, all remaining defendants would be dismissed.

"The Court acknowledges that our plaintiffs have suffered regrettable and horrific acts and has patiently allowed them numerous opportunities to overcome the bars to their claims," Alsup wrote in his 6-page ruling. "The law simply does not permit this Court to serve as a forum for the adjudication of their claims."

Alsup also entered judgment in favor of the defendants.

The plaintiffs' attorney, Hume Joseph Jung of Oakland, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

In December 2015, Japan officially apologized for its role in forcing Korean women into sexual slavery during World War II and pledged 1 billion yen, or $8.3 million, for survivors.

Of an estimated 200,000 women believed to have been made to serve as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during the war, only 46 known Korean "comfort women" were still alive in December last year, according to The Associated Press.

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