SEOUL, April 21 (Yonhap) -- South Korean victims of wartime sexual slavery lost a lawsuit against the Japanese government Wednesday, suffering a setback in their efforts to hold Tokyo accountable for war crimes.
The Seoul Central District Court dismissed the case brought by 20 plaintiffs, citing sovereign immunity, a legal doctrine that allows a state to be immune from a civil suit in foreign courts.
The plaintiffs, including surviving victims, euphemistically called "comfort women," who were forced to work in front-line brothels for Japanese soldiers during World War II, filed the lawsuit in December 2016. But the legal proceedings had been delayed because Tokyo refused to respond.
In January, a court here ordered Japan to make financial reparations of 100 million won (US$91,300) each to the first group of 12 victims, in the first legal victory for South Korean victims of wartime sexual enslavement.
At that time, it rejected Japan's claim that the case should be dropped based on sovereign immunity, and said that the rule should not apply to "systematic crimes against humanity" and war crimes.
Tokyo has maintained that it had no obligation to follow the ruling by a South Korean court that it said had no jurisdiction over Japan.
In South Korea, there are only 15 surviving victims registered with the government, mostly in their 80s and 90s. According to historians, there were around 200,000 victims, mostly from Korea.
Relations between the two neighboring nations have hit their lowest levels in recent years over a series of sensitive issues, from wartime forced labor to Tokyo's recent decision to release wastewater from the destroyed Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea.