A high court in Japan on Monday denied redress to a group of 15 Chinese men forced to work in Japanese coal mines during World War II in the first ruling amid a series of lawsuits former Chinese forced laborers have filed across Japan.
According to Kyodo News, the Fukuoka High Court did acknowledge that the state and Mitsui Mining Co. shared joint liability for taking the men from China to Japan for forced labor and that the company was liable for failing to provide protection for its workers who had to perform unpaid work under poor conditions.
But the court rejected the demand for compensation because the statute of limitations expired for both the state and the company, thus overturning the Fukuoka District Court ruling in April 2002 that ordered Mitsui Mining to pay 165 million yen (1.5 million US dollars).
A total of eight rulings have been issued at Japan's district court levels so far on lawsuits filed by Chinese forced laborers with results varying wildly.
The Sapporo District Court, for instance, rejected a compensation demand on March 23 but three days later on March 26 the Niigata District Court ordered the state as well as a transport company to pay damages.
Monday's ruling at the Fukuoka High Court could have an impact on deliberations on similar lawsuits still pending at eight district courts and two high courts, according to Kyodo.
In the Fukuoka High Court suit, the 15 Chinese men, now in their 70s and 80s, demanded a total of 345 million yen (3.1 million US dollars) in compensation be paid by the state and the company, as well as apologies be published in newspapers.
They were among some 3,000 people from Hebei and other Chinese provinces who were sent to work at Mitsui Mining's coal mines in west Japan's Fukuoka and Kumamoto prefectures in July 1943 and worked until March 1945, according to the court ruling.
The high court said the plaintiffs did not file compensation claims in Japan quickly enough when they could have done so as far back as February 1986 when they were allowed to travel overseas. The suit was not filed until May 10, 2000.
The high court thus applied a 20-year statute of limitation for the wronged party to claim compensation against both the state and the company.