Materials on lawsuits by South Korean A-bomb survivors: Archived and made available to public by South Korean government

Question of “responsibility to history” raised: Record of nearly 50 years of struggle

by Masami Nishimoto, Senior Staff Writer

Materials related to lawsuits filed in Japan by South Korean survivors of the atomic bombings have been archived by the South Korean government’s Korean History Compilation Committee. A list of the materials held is being made available on the committee’s Web site, and a symposium to mark the occasion was held on November 15. South Korean atomic bomb survivors, who experienced the bombings while the Korean Peninsula was under Japan’s colonial rule, were essentially abandoned and had no choice but to push open the door to support by means of lawsuits. Even now their appeal presents a challenge that tends to be overlooked by the Japanese public: “a responsibility to history.” I traveled to South Korea for the symposium.

“Atomic bomb survivors are atomic bomb survivors no matter where they are,” said Kwak Kwi Hoon, 88, a resident of Kyonggi Province. In this belief, in 2002 Mr. Kwak won the right to the payment of health care allowances to South Korean survivors under the provisions of the Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law. The following year Lee Jae-Suk, 79, a resident of Kyongsangnam Province, and others compelled the government to recognize their right to receive a special allowance. Materials primarily on these two cases and nine others have been gathered in the archive.

The materials can also be accessed on line (in Korean only) at: http://archive.history.go.kr. A search using the Chinese characters for Mr. Kwak’s name, for example, results in a list of a series of materials. About 35,000 pages of documents have been digitized.

Participation in formation of association

Prior to the symposium, Yi Tae-Jin, chairman of the compilation committee, said, “I applaud the donation of these valuable materials, which tell of the effort to settle the past between South Korea and Japan, and everyone’s hard work.” Mr. Yi also sent letters of appreciation to the lawyers who handled lawsuits in Osaka, Hiroshima and Nagasaki and to the Association of Citizens for the Support of South Korean Atomic Bomb Victims, which is chaired by Junko Ichiba.

South Korean A-bomb survivors were compelled to undergo hardship even after Japanese colonial rule ended. Mr. Kwak was drafted into the Japanese military and sent to Hiroshima, where he experienced the A-bombing. He later became a teacher, and in 1967 he was a founding member of the South Korean Atomic Bomb Sufferers Association. He visited Hiroshima many times to seek support. But, he said, “Our applications for A-bomb Survivor Certificates were not even accepted.”

The first door was opened with the case in which a South Korean survivor who had entered Japan illegally sought the issuance of survivor certificates. In 1978 the Supreme Court ruled that “the Atomic Bomb Medical Relief is based on the premise of government compensation,” and the case was won. But in the course of the lawsuit, in 1974 the former Ministry of Health and Welfare issued its Directive No. 402 in which it stated that “atomic bomb survivors outside Japan forfeit their right to allowances.” So even if they were issued certificates, the survivors were ineligible to receive relief overseas.

When the Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law took effect in 1995, there were calls across party lines in the Diet for the law to be applied to all survivors equally. On the strength of this, a series of lawsuits pushed open the doors to relief, redressing arbitrary measures that had been taken by the government.

High barriers to compensation

But the relief law, which stipulates that the central government will bear all of the medical costs of atomic bomb survivors, still does not apply to those who live in South Korea or other countries. The law sets an upper limit of 176,000 yen (187,000 yen for hospitalization) per year for health care costs with the rest to be paid by out-of-pocket by the survivors. In June of last year the South Korean atomic bomb survivors filed suit against this provision as well.

The theme of this month’s symposium was the significance of the lawsuits and the challenges they face. A researcher for a local non-profit organization said, “The South Korean government has also neglected relief measures for the A-bomb victims.” He called for solidarity with the growing movement to seek settlement for Japan’s colonial rule over the Korean peninsula.

Although there is little awareness of it in Japan, last year the Constitutional Court of Korea ruled that the government’s failure to give former “comfort women” the right to seek compensation was unconstitutional. And in May of this year the Supreme Court found that the right of claim of former conscripted laborers was “valid.”

The 1965 Korea-Japan Claims Settlement Agreement, which restored diplomatic ties between the two countries, neglected the atomic bomb survivors, and the South Korean Atomic Bomb Sufferers Association was formed to seek compensation and an apology. The group now has 2,671 members. In recent years between 80 and 100 members have died. The battle with the Japanese government has been going on for 50 years, and Mr. Kwak recognizes that when it comes to compensation the barriers will be even higher. “Even when a new administration came to power, they didn’t face up to history, so with the person expected to be the next prime minister…” As for the donation of the materials that represent the effort to which he devoted his life, Mr. Kwak said, “I want the young people of South Korea and Japan to know about the lives of those of us who survived the atomic bombings and the horror of nuclear weapons.” The materials also represent his desire for the settlement of historical issues.

(Originally published on November 27, 2012)