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Thursday, Feb. 16, 2006
Women left in China fail to win redress
Hurdle too high: court
By MASAMI ITO
The Tokyo District Court on Wednesday dismissed a damages lawsuit filed against the state by three Japanese women left behind in China during the final stages of World War II.
Noriko Suzuki, 77, Takeko Fujii, 73, and Rumiko Nishida, 72, filed the lawsuit in December 2001, demanding a combined 60 million yen from the government for not fulfilling its duty to assist in bringing them to Japan from China as quickly as possible, or establishing an adequate system to support them in Japan.
While similar lawsuits have been filed in the past, this is the first in which the plaintiffs included two women who were not recognized as war orphans due to their ages -- 13 and 16 -- when they went to China with their families.
Presiding Judge Hiroshi Noyama said, "The hurdle to recognize the state's illegality under the State Tort Liability Law is extremely high and (the plaintiffs) were one step away" from receiving compensation.
He ruled that women and children left behind in China in the chaos at the end of the war only had two choices -- risk their lives by not accepting help from the Chinese or receive aid and run the risk of not being able to get to Japan.
The plaintiffs, too, "were left behind in China against their wishes and waited with hope to return" to Japan, until they were finally able to set foot in their homeland more than 30 years later, he said.
But the judge ruled that the state bears responsibility for the Japanese public as a whole, not each individual citizen, and that its actions cannot be ruled illegal unless there was serious neglect of individuals.
The plaintiffs said they will appeal. Their lawyer, Sayoko Ishii, voiced frustration.
"(The ruling) was completely unexpected because the court recognized most of the facts" regarding the situation the women faced in China, Ishii said at a news conference.
"After determining all of those facts . . . I am indignant that (the court) did not acknowledge the government's responsibility."
Suzuki said she is mortified.
"My heart aches for all of those people whose lives were sacrificed" in China, she said. "Who does (the government) think we are?"
Suzuki and her family went to China during the war. She later married a Chinese man and had five children. Her whole family joined her in Japan after her return in 1978.
"War deprives people of their lives and ruins each person's precious life, even affecting our descendants," she said. "We people left behind in China barely made it back to Japan. (The court) did not understand what we went through in China . . . how much we had hoped to return home."