Long road to justice for Korean victims of A-bombs

2015-07-30 20:54
The Hiroshima explosion recorded at 08:15 on a wrist watch found in the ruins.  (<a href=www.shutterstock.com>Shutterstock</a>)

The Hiroshima explosion recorded at 08:15 on a wrist watch found in the ruins. (Shutterstock)

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Hiroshima - Keisaburo Toyonaga has long campaigned for the rights of ethnic Koreans in Japan, but his interest in the plight of atomic bomb survivors was sparked by a television programme he saw one evening in 1971.

The day before the Japanese high school teacher was due to fly to South Korea for some speaking engagements on discrimination in his own country, he saw a broadcast by a Korean survivor of the atomic bomb attacks on Japan.

Shin Yong Su was relating how he had been forced to move from Korea, then under Japanese occupation, to work for a military-affiliated pharmaceutical company in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped on August 6 1945.

Shin founded a Korean group for hibakusha, or atomic-bomb survivors, in 1967, but was not to receive a certificate from Tokyo - entitling him to medical subsidies - until 1974, three years after the TV show.

Tens of thousands of Koreans are thought to have been killed in the two bombings. About 70 000 Koreans were left injured or with damaged health, according to the Association of Citizens for Supporting South Korean Atomic Bomb Victims in Osaka, Japan.

Experts and activists say Korean victims, like Shin, were brought over by the Japanese government, which therefore should pay them the same compensation as affected Japanese citizens.

"Many were also forcibly brought to Japan to work at munitions factories or to fight for the country as soldiers during World War II," Toyonaga aid.

Toyonaga visited Shin's group during his 1971 South Korea visit, and was moved by their plight. On his return he joined the Osaka-based citizens group campaigning on their behalf, and set up a branch in Hiroshima in 1974.

In the four decades Toyonaga has been campaigning, the government has been slow to respond, he said.

Victims left uncared for 

"Once the war was over, the Japanese government left those victims uncared for. It has only gradually started to provide assistance after losing lawsuits."

In 1957, Tokyo passed an act awarding the victims refunds for treatment of their ailments caused by the radiation, but foreigners were excluded from receiving the certificate of survivor status.

In 1978, the Supreme Court overruled the stance, saying that another Korean victim, Son Jin Doo, should be awarded the certificate, after he sued the government in 1972.

The government duly changed the rules, but stipulated that the certificates would only be valid within Japan, until the Osaka High Court lifted that restriction in 2002.

More than 3 000 atomic bomb survivors outside Japan have so far received a certificate, according to Toyonaga.

Furthermore, certified Korean victims are compensated for treatment in Japan with no limits, on a par with Japanese victims.

But the current line of battle for Toyonaga and other campaigners is the limit on compensation for medical treatment overseas, where many victims live, and where any fees are only currently reimbursed up to ¥300 000 ($2 420) per person per year.

In 2014, Nagasaki District Court turned down a demand for full coverage for overseas treatment of Korean survivors.

The same year in Osaka, the High Court ruled in favour of full coverage of medical fees incurred in South Korea, prompting the prefectural government to appeal to the Supreme Court where the case is pending.


In June, the Hiroshima District Court denied full medical coverage for survivors now living in the United States.

Other nationalities have also been involved.

Dutchman Willy Buchel, 94, survived the Nagasaki bombing as a prisoner of war. He received his certificate last year, but is suing the government for compensation for the distress he suffered from the delay.

"The Japanese government had long failed to provide medical assistance for foreign survivors like Buchel," said Nobuto Hirano, an activist in Nagasaki.

He said court rulings such as the June one on victims in the US reflect the Abe government's unapologetic historical view. "His government has failed to reflect on Japan's past deeds," Hirano said.

Victims have also focused on the US.

Korean survivor Shim Jin Tae spoke at this year's review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty at the United Nations to say Washington should apologise for developing and using the atomic bombs.

"Korean victims would certainly think the US should also pay reparations and medical costs," Toyonaga said, but he conceded achieving this would be difficult.

"I personally would like President [Barack] Obama to come to Hiroshima and apologise for the bombing."

Read more on:    south korea  |  us  |  japan

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