HIROSHIMA, Japan - The Hiroshima High Court overturned a lower court decision yesterday and ordered the Japanese government to pay 40 plaintiffs, comprising former Korean forced laborers who survived the atomic bombing in Hiroshima and their bereaved families, 1.2 million yen - about $11,665 - each.
The court cited the illegality of excluding atomic bomb survivors from compensation on the basis that they live abroad. The plaintiffs live in South Korea.
Although the court ordered the government to pay a total of 48 million yen - about $466,737 - it rejected the plaintiffs' demands for compensation from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. and Ryoju, a firm set up after the dissolution of the Mitsubishi conglomerate, on the ground that the statute of limitations had expired.
It is the first time a high court has recognized the responsibility of the central government in compensation lawsuits concerning wartime incidents.
Former forced laborers, including Hong Sun Ui, 81, of Kyonggi province, South Korea, who were forcibly taken to Japan from the Korean Peninsula, and their bereaved families filed the suit against the central government, Mitsubishi and Ryoju.
The plaintiffs, of whom 19 are deceased, demanded a total of 443.5 million yen - about $4.3 million - in compensation and unpaid salaries.
Presiding Judge Yukio Nishijima said it was illegal for the central government to exclude bomb survivors who live abroad from government support.
There are about 40 lawsuits demanding compensation related to wartime incidents being litigated throughout Japan.
In March, the Niigata District Court ordered the central government to pay compensation to former Chinese laborers for the first time.
According to the suit ruled upon yesterday, the laborers were forcibly taken from the Korean Peninsula between August and October 1944 to work at a Mitsubishi Hiroshima machine factory and a Mitsubishi shipping plant in Hiroshima.
They were exposed to radiation in the August 1945 atomic bombing.
They later returned to Korea at their own expense.