Category Archives: Sovereign Immunity

On the new Japan-South Korean agreement on the Comfort Women

 

Malayalolas

by Harry Roque and Romel Regalado Bagares, counsel for the Malaya Lolas

Why is Japan settling the Comfort Women issue only with South Korea and not  with the Philippines or any other country whose citizens fell victim to the rapacious Japanese Imperial Army?

Are Filipinas raped and ravaged by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II any less human than their South Korean counterparts?

And  what is our government doing about the case of the Filipino Comfort Women whose claims against Japan have remained pending?

We raise these questions in the wake of recent reports that the Japanese and South Korean governments have finally reached an agreement to settle the 70-year old issue of the South Korean comfort women – or, in the case of the latter, girls and women forced to have sex with Japanese soldiers from the 1930s until the end of World War WII.

According to the agreement the Japanese government will offer a one-time final apology and to pay 1 billion yen ($8.3m) to provide care for victims through a foundation.

While we would like to see details of this agreement  show an official acknowledgment of responsibility by Japan – because precisely, the previous apologies issued by Japan do not appear to be on behalf of the  State but were cast as if there was no official policy implemented to forcefully conscript Asian women as sex slaves – news of this agreement only makes the insult against Filipinas who suffered the same fate sharper and deeper.

It also underlines the Aquino government’s continuing refusal to abide by its obligation under international law to provide an effective remedy against its own citizens who had been brutalized by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II.

The Filipino Comfort Women are dying one by one. Each day that they are ignored by their own government, any hope of official acknowledgment and reparations grows dimmer as the shadows of old age and mortality cast a dark pall on their faces.

They should not be used as pawns by states in the geopolitical controversies of the day,  as we fear is happening in regard to the Filipino comfort women. What we mean is that victims of horrendous human rights violations should not be used by our government as a leverage in its talk with Japan for support against China over the West Philippine Sea controversy.

Today, we hear of reports of more official Japanese government aid to the Philippines in the form of patrol boats to the Philippine Coast Guard and soft loans worth hundreds of millions of dollars for various infrastructure projects.

But these official aid initiatives will not erase Japanese official responsibility over the sexual slavery its own soldiers have subjected many Filipinas when they invaded the Philippines 70 years ago.

Background to the Malaya Lolas case

In 2004, the Center for International Law (Centerlaw) filed a petition in behalf of 70 plus members of the Malaya Lolas group, who survived the Mapanique, Tarlac siege by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II. In the petition, the Malaya Lolas charged that they were victims of systematic rape and sexual slavery committed by the Japanese, and they asked the High Court to compel the Philippine government to espouse their claims against Japan. On April 28, 2010, the Philippine Supreme Court dismissed the petition.
The Supreme Court’s decision sparked a massive controversy when significant portions of it were discovered to have been lifted from various sources without proper attribution. In addition to the plagiarism, it appears that these stolen passages were also twisted to support the court’s erroneous conclusion that the Filipina comfort women of World War II have no further legal remedies.

A Motion for Reconsideration and a Supplemental Motion for Reconsideration were subsequently filed by the Centerlaw on behalf of the Malaya Lolas highlighting the alleged plagiarism and twisting of sources. The Malaya Lolas, in their Supplemental Motion for Reconsideration said the High Court’s ruling, penned by Justice Mariano Del Castillo, “made it appear that these sources support the assailed judgment’s arguments for dismissing instant petition when, in truth, the plagiarized sources even make a strong case for the petition’s claims.”

On March 27, 2013, Centerlaw filed a manifestation asking the Supreme Court (SC) to consider a 2011 decision by the Constitutional Court of Korea on the issue of Korean Comfort Women in resolving the controversial Malaya Lolas case. This was noted by the Court in a resolution issued on April 11, 2013.

Centerlaw also filed a Motion for Leave to File Petition for Intervention on behalf of the European Commission on Human Rights (ECCHR). The Motion was denied by the Supreme Court stating that intervention can no longer be had once the case has been submitted for resolution.

In August 5, 2014, the Supreme Court denied the Motion for Reconsideration and Supplemental Motion for Reconsideration filed by Centerlaw on behalf of the Malaya Lolas.

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Filed under Comfort Women, Impunity, International Court of Justice, International Law, Malaya Lolas, Sovereign Immunity, State, War Crimes

Impunity for Nazi War Crimes

By Prof. Harry L. Roque, Jr.

The International Court of Justice recently promulgated a judgment which calls into question both the relevance and function of international law. Unwittingly, it  declared that Nazi Germany is entitled to impunity for acts of forced labor that it committed during World War II.

In its February 3, 2012 decision in the case of Germany vs. Italy, the court ruled that the principle of sovereign immunity from suits is a customary norm of international law that cannot be infringed unless waived by the state. This immunity subsists even if the claim against it is for violation of a peremptory norm, referred to as “jus cogens” in international law. It also ruled that state assets are also immune from execution

The case arose because of a series of Italian domestic court decisions awarding civil damages against Germany for forced labor committed during World War II.  While Germany has acknowledged that it committed grave breaches of international humanitarian law during the war, it nonetheless insists that claims against it for damages should be brought pursuant to its domestic law authorizing payment of compensation to individuals for these breaches and before German courts. Unfortunately, German courts barred compensation for forced labor for individuals with the status of a Prisoner of War. This is because the Germany insists that under the Geneva Conventions, POWs may be compelled to work by the detaining power.

In a case involving Luigi Ferrini who claimed to have been forcibly deported from Italy to Germany and made to work in a munitions factory, the Italian court ruled that Germany may not invoke state immunity for the commission of an international crime which at the same time, is covered by a jus cogens prohibition. The Court then awarded Ferrini damages and sought to enforce its decision against a real property owned by Germany in Italy. Hence, Germany’s resort to the ICJ.

The ICJ upheld Germany’s claim of immunity by ruling that under customary international law, the rule remains that a state is absolutely immune from suits for acts committed by its military troops in the territory of the forum. Furthermore, it stressed that under customary law, a violation of a jus cogens norm, even if acknowledged, as it was by Germany, cannot result in waiver of state immunity. In both points, the court enumerated a long list of state practice in the form of legislation and court decisions indicating that other than for Italian and Greek judicial decisions, the principle of state immunity as derived from the principle of sovereign equality of states remains to be firmly rooted in international law.

In ruling in the manner that it did, the ICJ  applied an already disregarded notion that international law is only about the application of legal rules. In fact, bulk of the Court’s opinion was devoted to an examination of what the law is, assuming perhaps that what is may be divorced from why it is law and what it seeks to accomplish. International law is law only because states accept it as such. While states may have varying reasons why they acknowledge it to be law, the fact remains that like all laws, international law forms part of normative system. It prescribes conduct deemed beneficial to all of humanity and prohibits conducts that are otherwise.

This means that in the application of rules, the Court should have considered what is more beneficial to humanity: the cold application of the principle of sovereign immunity or the primacy of protecting civilian and POWS in times of armed conflict. While it is true that sovereign equality of states is a foundational principle of the law, the same is true also of the principle that that human rights have also ceased to be purely domestic issue.

The fact that the ICJ gave primacy to the principle of sovereign immunity from suits ignores why these rules exist in the first place; that is, to protect the interests of individuals and not the interest of an artificial being that is a state. As some have noted, international law protects for instance, the environment—not because the ocean or the air should be protected as such. We do so ultimately because human beings require clean water and air.

True, the Court expressly said that its ruling does not affect the liability of state agents when they themselves commit egregious acts. But why should there be a distinction? Precisely because a state can only act only though its agent, there should be no distinction hence between suits against the state itself and against its agents.

The Court also engaged in face-saving when it said that its decision is without prejudice to the liability of the German state for the commission of an internationally wrongful act. But what use is this when victims are bereft of a remedy under domestic law? Who will authorize the award of compensation to the victims when current state practice still deny individuals a standing to bring claims under international law? Certainly, similar claims to that of Ferrini’s were rejected by the European Court of Human Rights on jurisdictional grounds.

There is clearly more merit in the lone dissenting opinion written by a former President of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights Judge Antonio Trindande: “The Court’s decision … seems more open and receptive to the sensitivities of States than to the victimized human beings, subjected to deportation and sent to forced labor.”

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Filed under Impunity, International Court of Justice, International Law, Nazi War Crimes, Sovereign Immunity