TOKYO (AP) — A Japanese court yesterday awarded $1.7 million in damages to a group of Chinese for injuries or deaths of relatives caused by chemical shells and other weapons abandoned in China by the Japanese army after World War II.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs called the verdict historic. The decision came months after another Japanese court rejected a similar claim by a different group of Chinese — the first legal ruling on a legacy of the war that remains a sore spot between Japan and China five decades later.
A top Japanese government spokesman, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Masaaki Yamazaki, called the decision “very severe.” Japanese officials said they would study the ruling, delivered by the Tokyo District Court, before deciding whether to appeal.
“We were finally given justice,” said Li Chen, one of 13 plaintiffs awarded a total of $1.7 million. “I strongly urge the Japanese government to not appeal this ruling.”
Mr. Li, 58, said he has suffered respiratory difficulties, dizziness and nausea since he dug up a World War II-era Japanese poison gas shell while dredging a river bed in 1974. He and the other plaintiffs, including relatives of two men killed on a road-building site when a buried explosive shell went off, sued the Japanese government in 1996.
About 700,000 Japanese chemical weapons were left on Chinese soil by the Imperial Japanese Army after its defeat in World War II, according to Japanese estimates. China says the abandoned weapons have killed at least 2,000 of its nationals since 1945.
The Japanese government promised to dispose of the weapons under a 1997 international convention, but it holds that all Chinese claims to war-related compensation were settled in 1972 when Tokyo established diplomatic relations with Beijing’s communist leaders.
The Tokyo District Court echoed that argument in May when it rejected a demand by five Chinese for compensation in the first such ruling.
But yesterday, Judge Yoshihiro Katayama said the Japanese government had been negligent in recovery efforts and was responsible for the suffering of the plaintiffs. The survivors said disabilities related to exposure to poison gas have cost them their jobs.