Kwak Kwin Hoon
Plaintiff, Lawsuit on Applying Relief Law to Atomic Bomb Victims Abroad
Republic of Korea
It is said that about ten percent of those killed or injured in A-bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945 were South Koreans. Because South Korea was in a turbulent period before and after its independence and there were subsequent disturbances, we, the South Korean A-bomb victims were left alone without any relief and many of us were plagued with disease, poverty and starvation and died in destitute.
When the relief program for Hibakusha was initiated in Japan after the enactment of two A-bomb laws, no relief was given to us, and the issue of compensation to South Korean A-bomb victims was not discussed in the Japan-Republic of Korea Treaty. We, therefore, founded the South Korea Atomic Bomb Victims Association in 1967 and have been claiming compensation and relief from Japan which was responsible for causing our suffering.
The Japanese government has never dealt with us seriously, claiming that "the issue of compensation has already been settled in the Japan-Republic of Korea Treaty". It was exactly 30 years after our exposure to the A-bomb when the Japanese government finally started to issue A-bomb victim certificates (Hibakusha Techo) to the South Korean A-bomb victims after its defeat in the Son Jito trial in 1974.
However, on July 22 the same year, when a South Korean A-bomb victim applied for Hibakusha Techo, on that very same day, the Ministry of Health and Welfare went against the court ruling by submitting an official notice from the chief of the bureau stating that "this Techo becomes invalid when the holder leaves Japan." Thereafter the Ministry even went so far as to ignore the Supreme Court ruling and for these 27 years has never admitted the A-bomb victims residing outside Japan as certified Hibakushas. It was appalling to find that in law-governed Japan, the chief of bureau notice superceded the Supreme Court ruling. During this time 90 % of the South Korea A-bomb victims have died and now only 10 % or 2,200 people are surviving.
When I was hospitalized in the hospital
in Osaka in May, 1998, I was given a Hibakusha Techo and became eligible
for a health management allowance to be paid for five years. When
I was about to go back to South Korea, I asked the Osaka prefecture office
to pay the allowance to my bank account during my absence, their reply
however was that I was no longer eligible for the allowance, since I
forfeited my right by leaving the country. We therefore filed the lawsuit on October 1 the same year and the ruling was completely in favor of us.
In the trial, the Japanese government and Osaka prefecture government gave various arguments, saying that the Relief Law was a social security law for Japanese and foreigners who were not paying tax were not eligible, or that the Law was established in the process of legislation based on the understanding that foreigners were to be excluded. The Supreme Court justice however made an unequivocal decision, stating that "since the Relief Law was a law made to provide relief to A-bomb victims, and considering from a humanitarian stand point, it shall aid all A-bomb victims regardless of their nationality, and the act of discriminating against those who have left the country from those who reside in Japan may be violation of Article 14 of the Constitution.
Soon after the court judgment, I went to Tokyo and met with leaders of political parties, the Justice Minister and the Health, Welfare and Labor Minister and strongly claimed that they shold withdraw from appeal just as they did in the Hansen's disease case 20 days ago. The government however appealed to a higher court with a vague reason saying that "the issue is different from Hansen's disease", so we have a long way to go in the court dispute and my heart aches with deep sorrow when I consider the age of victims abroad and cannot help but shed tears.
The average life expectancy of a male in
South Korea is 70 years old, and the average age of conscript workers who
constitute most of South Korea A-bomb victims is 78. That means we
are 7 or 8 years older than the average life expectancy. If it takes
five years until the case is brought to the Supreme Court, how many could
survive until the final ruling? This is exactly the point the Japanese
government is aiming at. The number of A-bomb victims abroad is around
3,200 in North and South Korea combined, 1,000 in the United States, and
190 in Brazil, which makes the total as little short of 4,500, and they
are all getting old. So we have no time. We need to tackle
the issue of
relief immediately. This is exactly what the humanitarian way is all about. Though there has been a delay, the Japanese government must keenly realize its responsibility in WWII and, as an expression of remorse, must tackle the issue of relief for A-bomb victims abroad.
Because of the public criticism both within and outside of Japan against the court appeal, the Japanese government has been trying to get around the situation by making up various rumors, such as contribution of an extra four billion yen, or establishment of a Study Committee for the possible amendment of the Relief Law, or payment of travel allowance for those who come to Japan for treatment. But let me state this explicitly. It is all just their tactics to deceive you and you must not fall into their traps.
If they care about A-bomb victims abroad, all they need to do is to accept the court rulings or terminate the official notice No. 402. They do not need to go a roundabout way. Who asked them for any money?
The Japanese government has completely discriminated us, the South Korean people, especially the South Korean A-bomb victims by consistently adopting a policy of cruel treatment. This kind of attitude must be corrected immediately. Even without giving any concrete example, the fact that the percentage of South Korean victims of the total A-bomb victims fell from initial 10% to less than 1% at present eloquently tells the history. The 21st century shall not be an era of discrimination and prejudice but an era of cooperation.
I will continue to fight through the High Court and the Supreme Court to win the human rights for A-bomb victims abroad until my life comes to an end. I deeply appreciate your ardent support as before.