Seoul says Japan inaction means ‘comfort women’ court ruling upheld

SEOUL (Reuters) -A South Korean court ruling in favor of a group of 16 women who were forced to work in Japanese wartime brothels was confirmed on Saturday by Japan’s decision not to appeal the verdict, Seoul’s foreign ministry said.

An appellate court in South Korea last month ordered Japan to compensate the 16 “comfort women”, overturning a lower court ruling that had dismissed the case.

Appeals must be filed within two weeks after a court’s written judgment, which made Friday the deadline.

“Comfort women” is a Japanese euphemism for those forced to work in its wartime brothels during its 1910-45 colonisation of the Korean peninsula and has been a point of contention between the countries for decades.

Under conservative President Yoon Suk Yeol, Seoul and Tokyo have sought to improve relations dogged by historical disputes stemming from Japan’s colonial rule.

South Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement it would continue efforts to recover the honor and dignity of “comfort women” while seeking future-oriented cooperation with Japan.

Tokyo has said the issue was settled under a 1965 treaty that normalised diplomatic relations, and the two neighbours agreed to “irreversibly” end the dispute in a 2015 deal.

When asked about the latest court ruling, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa said on Friday that Japan had expressed to the South Korean side that it is “unacceptable” and in violation of the agreement between the two countries.

She said the government had no intention of appealing against the court ruling because Japan is not subject to South Korea’s jurisdiction under international law.

Earlier this year, Seoul announced South Korean companies would pay to resolve a dispute over forced labour under Japan’s 1910-1945 occupation, seeking to end what has undercut U.S.-led efforts to present a unified front against China and North Korea.

The move was hailed by U.S. President Joe Biden as “groundbreaking.”

(Reporting by Hyunsu Yim in Seoul and Yuka Obayashi in Tokyo: Editing by Neil Fullick)