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Constitutional Court to rule on 2015 ‘comfort women’ deal Friday

South Korea’s Constitutional Court is to rule Friday on the constitutionality of the controversial 2015 agreement between Korea and Japan regarding Korean women who were forced to work in Japan’s military brothels during World War II. 

The now-botched deal, which was meant to “finally and irreversibly” resolve the issue, is one of several reasons behind the two neighbors’ soured relations, with Seoul declaring it critically flawed and Tokyo blaming Seoul for breaking an international promise. 

Poster of
Poster of "comfort women" set up between Myeongdong and Chungmuro Station in Seoul. (Yonhap)

The court said Monday that it will decide whether the deal violated the victims’ rights, as claimed in March 2016 by 29 Korean survivors of Japanese military sexual slavery and 12 family members representing deceased victims.

Under the settlement, sealed between then-President Park Geun-hye of Korea and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe despite protests from victims, Japan apologized to the survivors and provided 1 billion yen ($9.14 million) to a fund to help them, in return for Korea’s promise not to raise the issue again. 

Seoul formally dismantled the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation, which had been created to assist the victims in accordance with the agreement, in July this year. 

Survivors of Japanese military sexual slavery say the agreement not only failed to meet their demands but violated their fundamental constitutional rights -- namely, their property rights and their rights to human dignity and diplomatic protection. 

The court has been examining the case for about four years, raising speculation that the decision was delayed to avoid escalating the ongoing diplomatic row between the two countries. 

The Korean Foreign Ministry, in an opinion it filed with the court last year, asked for the case to be dropped, saying the deal is not legally binding and so does not directly breach victims’ constitutional rights. 

If the court rules the deal unconstitutional, the Japanese government could condemn Seoul for not fulfilling the agreement. This could spark additional tension as the two neighboring countries are working to achieve a thaw in bilateral relations.

By Ahn Sung-mi (