S. Korean court orders disclosure of Japanese govt assets in comfort women lawsuit

SEOUL — The Seoul Central District Court has ordered the Japanese government to disclose an inventory of its assets in South Korea in response to the final judgment of the court in January, which approved a lawsuit filed by 12 South Korean former “comfort women” and ordered the Japanese government to pay compensation. The court order was issued on June 9.

Japan has not responded to the compensation order, and the plaintiffs applied to the district court for the disclosure order in an effort to find Japanese assets that can be seized.

Japanese assets are considered to be protected by the principle of sovereign immunity, a concept under international customary law that a sovereign state is not subject to the judiciary of another state.

The Vienna Convention, which forbids the seizure of assets from embassies and other institutions, is also considered to apply.

Although it is widely believed that actual seizure of assets would be difficult, this latest court decision has advanced one of the procedures for the plaintiffs to apply for such a seizure.

The latest court decision stated that the application of sovereign immunity to acts of grave human rights violations would damage the common interests of the international community and harm friendly relations among nations.

The court concluded that the case falls under an exception to sovereign immunity, and that the application for compulsory seizure is lawful.

According to the civil execution law in South Korea, if the decision on the asset disclosure order is delivered to the Japanese side, the Japanese government will be obliged to submit an inventory of its assets on the designated date.

However, based on the principle of sovereign immunity, the Japanese government has consistently refused to respond to the former comfort women lawsuit, and the Japanese government is likely to refuse to receive the latest order.

If the decision is not delivered, the focus will be on whether the court will inquire about Japan’s assets at banks and other institutions in South Korea.