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Osaka court dismisses WWII forced labor damages suit by Chinese nationals

Plaintiffs in a lawsuit over wartime forced labor enter the Osaka District Court in the city's Kita Ward on Jan. 29, 2019. (Mainichi/Kentaro Ikushima)

OSAKA -- Chinese nationals, who claim they were forced into labor at an Akita Prefecture mine and other locations under harsh conditions during World War II as well as their bereaved families have lost a damages suit against the Japanese government.

The Osaka District Court on Jan. 29 dismissed the suit, the first one filed against the central government over the so-called Hanaoka incident in which Chinese forced workers rose in revolt in 1945 over harsh labor conditions. This is also the only lawsuit being tried in Japan for wartime compensation, according to a legal team for the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit was launched in 2015, which marked the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

The 19 plaintiffs, mostly members of the bereaved families of the former workers, demanded that the central government pay a total of 82.5 million yen in damages and offer an apology.

According to the suit, 16 former workers were forcibly relocated by Japanese forces and others from Shandong and Hebei provinces in China to Japan between 1943 and 1945. Of them, 11 were forced to work at the Hanaoka mine in the northwestern Japan prefecture of Akita and the five others at a shipbuilding yard in the western Japan city of Osaka and other places.

The plaintiffs argued that the Japanese government neglected to supervise and give instructions to employers who hired these workers although some 39,000 Chinese people were forcibly taken to Japan and compelled to work in harsh environments.

In the Hanaoka case, the plaintiffs claimed that they were tortured and assaulted after the incident and unable to sufficiently work after the war because of after-effects of such violence.

In the 1972 Japan-China Joint Communique that established bilateral diplomatic relations, Beijing declared that the country abandoned all claims to wartime compensation. In a separate lawsuit, the Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that Chinese nationals could not demand wartime compensation in lawsuits because of the joint communique.

The plaintiffs and their legal team argued in the latest suit that the top court ruling is wrong on the grounds that the joint statement does not include specific provisions for abandoning individuals' rights to demand wartime compensation.

A total of 986 Chinese people were forcibly taken to the Hanaoka mine during World War II, and many of them died after starving or were subjected to abuse. In June 1945, Chinese workers rose in revolt but were suppressed by civilian and military police. Over 400 forced workers at the mine are said to have died by the end of the war.

Survivors and the bereaved families of those who died subsequently filed a damages suit against Kajima Corp., the predecessor of Kajima Gumi which ran the Hanaoka mine. In 2000, the plaintiffs and the defendant reached a settlement at the Tokyo High Court, under which Kajima agreed to establish a 500 million yen fund to extend relief measures for all the 986.

(Japanese original by Koji Endo, City News Department)

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