Lawsuits brought against Japan by former Korean "comfort women"

Korean Victims of the Asia-Pacific War
(including Kim Hak-soon, the first “comfort woman” to speak publically)

Filed December 6, 1991

  • December 1991 - 35 members of the Association of Korean Victims filed a lawsuit in Tokyo District Court against the Japanese government for violating their human rights during WWII. Three of the plaintiffs were former "comfort women." Plaintiffs demanded: 1) an official apology; 2) compensatory payment to survivors in lieu of full reparation, of ¥20 million (US $154,000) each; 3) a thorough investigation of their cases; 4) the revision of Japanese school textbooks identifying this issue as part of the colonial oppression of the Korean people; and 5) the building of a memorial museum.
  • Following the lawsuit the Japanese government stated that it was prepared to consider the suffering of Korean women forced to provide sex for Japanese soldiers. Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichiu Kato's statement is here.
  • March 2001 - The Tokyo District Court dismissed the compensation demand.  The court held that  individual victims’ claims for damages against Japan were unacceptable under international law.  The court further held that the redress issue was settled by a 1965 bilateral agreement between Japan and South Korea, normalizing their relations.
  • March 2001 - Plaintiffs appealed to the Tokyo High Court. July 2003 the Tokyo High Court rejected the appeal, concluding that even though the Japanese government at that time had failed to fulfill its obligation to provide security for the comfort women, their right to demand compensation had expired. 
  • November 2004 - The Supreme Court upheld the Tokyo High Court’s rule and rejected the appeal. Read the court's decision (Japanese text).

Read a more detailed summary of the case.

Pusan Comfort Women and Women’s Labor Corps Members

Filed December 25, 1992

  • December 1992 - Ten South Korean women filed a lawsuit against the Japanese government seeking an official apology and a total of ¥564 million (US$6.66 million) for the suffering they endured during WW II.  Plaintiffs included three former comfort women.  Plaintiffs stated that Japan’s act violated an international treaty banning forced labor and requested compensation for their physical and mental suffering. 
  • April 1998 - The Court ruled that compensation be awarded to the comfort women and ordered the Japanese government to pay ¥300,000 (US $2,800.00) to each of the three plaintiffs. Read the court's ruling (Japanese text).
  • May 1998 - The women appealed to the Hiroshima High Court demanding a “proper apology and compensation” and claimed that the amount awarded to them in the April 1998 ruling was an insult to the women and their suffering. 
  • March  2001 - The Hiroshima High Court rejected the appeal and also overturned the April 1998 decision.  The judge expressed sympathy for the plaintiffs’ frustration over the government’s failure to enact a law to fully compensate victims, but held that the Constitution did not clearly state that the government was obligated to introduce such a law. Read the court's decision (Japanese text).
  • April 2001 - Two of the comfort women appealed to Japan’s Supreme Court on the basis that the ruling was unconstitutional, but in March  2003 the appeal was rejected.  The Supreme Court also nullified the April 1998 ruling, the only court ruling at that point in time that had ordered the Japanese government to compensate the plaintiffs. 

Read a more detailed summary of the case.

Song Shin-do

Filed April 3, 1993

  • Song Shin-do filed a lawsuit with the Tokyo District Court against the Japanese government in April 1993 seeking an official apology and ¥120 million (US$1 million) in compensation.  Song is the only Korean resident of Japan to file a lawsuit on the issue.
  • October 1999 - Tokyo District Court dismissed Song’s claims, holding that under current international law, an individual had  no right to seek damages against a nation.  The court ruled that Song’s suffering could not be covered by the State Redress Law because the law took effect in 1947 and therefore did not apply to events prior to that date. Read the court's decision (Japanese text).
  • October 1999 - Song appealed to the Tokyo High Court. That appeal was dismissed in November 2000.  Read the court's decision (Japanese text).
  • December 2000 - Song appealed to Japan’s Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court dismissed Song’s appeal in March 2003, holding that Japan had no legal obligation to pay Song for her suffering because the 20-year statute of limitations for such a claim had expired. 

Read a more detailed summary of the case on George Washington University's "Memory and Reconciliation in the Asia Pacific" website.

Hwang Geum Joo v. Japan

September 2000

  • September 2000 - 15 former "comfort women" filed a class action lawsuit before the  U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in the case Hwang Geum Joo v. Japan. This is the only lawsuit on the matter that has been filed in a U.S. court. The plaintiffs alleged that they were victims of human trafficking and endured rape and torture.  They demanded reparations and an official apology from the Japanese government.
  • The Japanese government filed a motion to dismiss the suit, arguing that the court lacked jurisdiction over Japan’s conduct and that the government of Japan was immune from suit under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA).  The district court granted Japan’s motion on the basis that Japan enjoyed sovereign immunity. 
  • June 2003 - The plaintiffs appealed the decision to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals but the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s decision on the grounds that Japan would have been afforded absolute immunity from suit in the United States at the time of the alleged acts.
  • November 2003 - The plaintiffs filed a cert petition with the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court remanded the case to the D.C. Circuit Court for further consideration.  After re-examination, the lower court again dismissed the case, ruling it a "nonjusticiable political question" and "inimical to the foreign policy interests of the United States." In February 2006 the Supreme Court denied cert and closed the case.

Legal Documents

Read the Center for Justice and Accountability's summary.  

Read a detailed summary of the case on George Washington University's "Memory and Reconciliation in the Asia Pacific" website.