Theses Master's

The Unsolved Legacy of Forced Labour during World War II in Asia

Lee, Juana Wai Sum

Five decades after the end of WWII, a wave of WWII reparations lawsuits swept across Asia, targeting the Japanese government and over one hundred Japanese companies that toiled brutal forced labour during the war. For years, plaintiffs and their legal representatives travelled across Korea, Japan, China and the United States to fight for redress in court. But with more survivors passing away during court proceedings, historical justice became exceedingly urgent. In 2014, the Beijing No.1 Intermediate People’s Court agreed to hear lawsuits by Chinese forced labourers, with dozens of pending cases awaiting trial. And on October 30, 2018, the South Korean Supreme Court ordered Nippon Steel Corporation to pay four Korean forced labourers ₩100 million won (USD$84,000), escalating tensions and hostilities between victim countries and Japan. But despite progress towards redress in courts, the author finds that while retributive justice is necessary to advance the WWII forced labour redress movement, it is not sufficient to obtain acceptable reparations in the case of Japan. Notwithstanding court decisions ruling in favour of the plaintiffs in South Korea and Japan, the Shinzō Abe administration and the longstanding historical resentment between Japan and victim countries have created a strong barrier impeding postwar redress and accountability. In light of these rapid developments, this article highlights the voices of fourteen individuals, including one Korean forced labour survivor, bereaved family members, their legal representatives and academics. The lessons learned, recommendations and reforms within Japan’s economic, social and political sphere are applicable to furthering historical justice and accountability and move towards memorializing this chapter of history.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Institute for the Study of Human Rights
Thesis Advisors
Barkan, Elazar
M.A., Columbia University
Published Here
August 24, 2020