Foreign ministry calls off award for forced labor victim
The presentation of a national human rights award to Yang Geum-deok, a 93-year-old victim of Japanese forced labor, was put on hold by the Foreign Ministry.
The National Human Rights Commission of Korea awards one person every year its Human Rights Award, which is a second rank award of the Order of Civil Merit in Korea.
Yang, who was forced to work at a factory of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Nagoya in the 1940s, was nominated by the commission on Nov. 24.
The commission was going to present her with the award Friday, during a special ceremony for Human Rights Day.
But it needed the approval of the Cabinet.
By law, all nominations for the annual human rights award are to be reviewed and approved by the Cabinet, in a meeting presided over by the president or prime minister, with a dozen ministers including the foreign minister and the interior minister.
But at two Cabinet meetings, the nomination wasn’t approved because the Foreign Ministry opposed it until all relevant ministries had discussed it.
“We were informed of the nomination last week,” said Lim Soo-suk, spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry, in a press briefing on Thursday.
“By law, any national award or decoration requires first the approval of the Cabinet and then the president. But the Foreign Ministry felt that we hadn’t discussed the nomination enough with relevant ministries.”
A civic group supporting victims of forced labor in Korea criticized the Foreign Ministry.
“Why do we have to watch out for what Japan thinks even in giving out our own human rights award?” the group said in a statement issued Thursday.
It also relayed Yang’s statement.
“It was nice to hear that the government would give me a prize even though I was this old,” she was quoted as saying by the group. “What’s this abrupt change in decision, though? I’m not to be trifled with.”
Yang is one of the forced labor victims waiting for a court decision on liquidating Japanese corporate assets to compensate victims.
The Korean Supreme Court on Oct. 30, 2018 ordered Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal, renamed Nippon Steel, to pay 100 million won ($75,740) each to Korean victims of Japanese forced labor during World War II. It made a similar ruling on Nov. 29, 2018 against Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
Korea’s top court acknowledged the illegality of Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule and recognized that the individuals’ rights to compensation had not expired.
Japan has protested the decisions, claiming that all compensation issues related to its colonial rule were resolved with a 1965 treaty normalizing bilateral relations.
Both Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi refused to comply with the top court’s decisions, leading to a drawn-out legal process, a move that escalated tensions between Seoul and Tokyo.
Tokyo has repeatedly stressed that resolving the compensation rulings is a prerequisite for improving relations with Korea.
As the country awaited further rulings by the Supreme Court on liquidating Japanese corporate assets, the Foreign Ministry submitted a statement to the Supreme Court on July 26 asking it to consider its recent efforts to reach a diplomatic solution on the matter with Japan before it rules on the case.
“It’s not about opposing the nomination,” a Foreign Ministry official told the press Thursday. “The ministry simply thinks the nomination and awarding should go by a certain order of processes as laid out by the law.”
BY ESTHER CHUNG [email@example.com]