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 publicly)

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

Filed 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.

He Name You v. Japan

Filed November 23, 2015

  • Following nearly a year of litigation, a federal judge for the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California permanently dismissed a class action lawsuit accusing Japan and its major corporations of conspiring to force Korean women into sexual slavery during World War II.
  • In the suit, 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. The plaintiffs said they were kidnapped from their homes in the early 1940s and made to serve as “comfort women" in Japanese military brothels.
  • Earlier, U.S. District Judge William Alsup 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 had 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 with Japanese soldiers.


Filed August 2016

  • Twelve South Korean “comfort women” sued the South Korean government over the 2015 agreement with Japan (link) intended to end the bitter historical dispute over the women who were forced to serve at Japan’s wartime brothels. In the action filed with the Seoul Central District Court, the 12 plaintiffs each seek 100 million won ($90,000) in compensation.

Filed December 2016

Two separate lawsuits were filed against Japan by former Comfort Women and family members representing deceased Comfort Women. 

  • On December 28, 2016, eleven survivors and ten bereaved family members representing six other victims filed suit against the Japanese government seeking damages in the amount of 200 million won each. Earlier in December 2016, twenty people, including surviving Comfort Women, filed a lawsuit at the Seoul Central District Court demanding compensation from the Japanese government. In both cases, the victims bringing these new cases say the 2015 bilateral agreement to “resolve” the issue “finally and irreversibly” was not adequate, as it did not acknowledge violations of human rights law committed by Japan, nor accept legal responsibility. They also say it lacked a genuine apology and was negotiated without full participation of the victims.
  • The Japanese government refused to accept court documents demanding its presence in the Korean court. After three failed attempts, the Korean court considered the documents as having been delivered and set a date for the court proceedings. The first hearing was held in November 2019.
  • In the first ruling on January 8, 2021 the Seoul Central District Court ordered the Japanese government to pay 100 million Korean won ($91,800) each to the twelve Comfort Women.  Since the suit was filed in 2016, six of the twelve plaintiffs have died. The ruling was confirmed when the Japanese government rejected its chance to appeal on January 23.
  • Tokyo has maintained that the case should be dropped based on state immunity, a legal doctrine that allows a state to be immune from a civil suit in foreign courts. But the Seoul court dismissed the claim, saying it should not apply to "systematic crimes against humanity" and war crimes.
  • A ruling for the second suit was scheduled for the second suit later in January 2021 but was postponed to March 2021.


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.