Melvin H. Rosen and Ethel Blaine Millet versus Japan

Filed: September 4, 2001

On September 4, 2001, former U.S. POW Melvin Rosen and former Army nurse and POW Ethel Blaine Millet filed a class-action lawsuit against the Japanese government at the U.S. District Court for Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division (Chicago).  The plaintiffs demanded $1 trillion in compensation and reparations on behalf of 437, 025 American soldiers killed or wounded during the Pacific War.

Melvin Rosen is a retired Army colonel who was held as a POW by the Japanese army for three-and-a-half years in the Philippines and survived the ‘Bataan Death March.’  Ethel Blaine Millet is a former Army nurse captured in 1942 and worked in Japanese POW camps.

The defendants argued that reparations were waived by the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty; therefore, they are not responsible for responding to private claims made against Japan.  The plaintiffs argued that the victims did not fully forfeit their right to demand compensation because declassified documents of the Treaty negotiations show that then-Japanese Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida promised the Dutch government that the Allies were not forfeiting their right.

In December 2002, Japan accepted to service the case, but filed a motion to dismiss the case.  The plaintiff’s attorneys filed a reply to the motion to dismiss the case.  The United States government also entered the lawsuit, filing a statement of interest on March 11, 2003 supporting the Japanese position.  The plaintiff’s attorneys replied with an opposition to the United States motion to file a statement of interest and a motion to join the United States as involuntary co-plaintiff under Rule 19.  The case is ongoing.

We would like to thank Professor Anthony D’Amato whose website contains the above PDF files.

Former POWs and citizen captives of the UK, USA, Australia, and New Zealand v. the government of Japan

Filed: January 30, 1995

In 1993, lawyers representing the 12,000-member Japanese Labor Camps Survivors Association (association for British servicemen held in Japanese labor camps during WWII) appealed to Nissan and Mitsubishi for an out-of-court settlement involving $240 million (£155 million/¥2 billion) in compensation for former British POWs.  The lawyers threatened legal action if negotiations failed.

In an attempt to find an amicable resolution to the demand, British PM John Major and Japanese PM Morihiro Hosokawa discussed the issue during an official state visit to Tokyo by Major.  The Japanese government offered to set up a charitable foundation that would distribute money on a needs-only basis which Japanese companies that used POWs in forced labor camps were voluntarily expected to donate.  The initiative was backed by Major as a diplomatic alternative to legal claims for compensation but the Japanese Labor Camps Survivors Association rejected the idea.  (The British government stresses that it has no legal claim against Japan as the issue was officially settled by the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty; however it also stresses that individual claims against Britons and other Commonwealth nationals are not affected by this.)

Having failed to obtain compensation, the Association reached out to other former military personnel and civilian internees from Britain, the United States, Australia and New Zealand, bringing the number of former POWs/civilian detainees to be represented by the Association to roughly 25, 000.  Arthur Titherington, former British soldier and then-chairman of Britain’s Japanese Labour Camps Survivors Association, along with 6 other plaintiffs (former POWs and civilian detainees) representing these other countries, filed suit in Tokyo District Court in January 30, 1995.

The plaintiffs, representing the 25, 000 former POWs and civilian detainees (or their widows) of the Japanese Imperial Army during WWII, demanded a written apology and £300 million (roughly $440 million) in compensation for inhumane treatment during WWII.  Additionally, the 7 plaintiffs demanded roughly £13, 500 each ($22, 000) for their own compensation. This figure is based on the compensation paid to the Japanese-Americans interned in the U.S. during WWII.  The plaintiff’s argued that they were interned in Japanese POW camps in Singapore and the Philippines from 1942 to 1945 and forced to work while being exposed to hunger, diseases, and violence from prison guards.  The Japanese government argued that all issues of compensation were resolved with the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty.

On November 26, 1998, Judge Shigeki Inoue dismissed the case, citing that individuals are not entitled to seek damages from a foreign government under international law and the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty.  The plaintiffs appealed to the Tokyo High Court.

On March 27, 2002, Judge Kengo Ishii of the Tokyo High Court rejected the appeal citing that all compensation claims had been resolved under the 1951 Peace Treaty and that individuals can therefore not make claims against, or seek compensation from, the government.  This upheld the 1998 ruling.  The plaintiffs appealed to the Japanese Supreme Court.

On March 30, 2004, the Japanese Supreme Court rejected the appeal, along with another appeal being lodged by former Dutch POWs.  Its ruling held up the lower courts’ decisions and reasoning and ended the plaintiffs’ judicial avenue for redress in Japan.

Japanese POWs in Russia

After WWII ended, the fate of hundreds of thousands of Japanese soldiers in Siberia became uncertain.  It was believed that these soldiers had died, stayed in the Soviet Union, or were forced into labor.  Both Japan and the Soviet Union maintained conflicting versions of the number of dead and un-repatriated Japanese POWs held by the Red Army.  The Soviet government argued that repatriation was completed between 1947 and 1950, finding that 34, 000 had died in Siberia and were buried in 341 different grave sites.  They did not admit to any sort of detention or labor.  The Japanese government argued that hundreds of thousands were unaccounted for, with numbers ranging from 320,000 to 600,000 Japanese.  They feared that these Japanese were being used for forced labor within the Soviet Union.  Talks between the two countries stalled after the Soviet Union announced its findings, but starting in 1953, they resumed, this time mediated by the Red Cross. 

The Red Cross intervention led to the repatriation of more than 5,300 Japanese and a revision of earlier Soviet figures: 341 grave sites became 27 sites, 34,000 dead became 15,000.  Moreover, they added that the Red Army did detain many Japanese, but the number who had died while in detention was only 3,500 Japanese.  The Japanese argued more were unaccounted for and demanded compensation, an accurate list of names of those who died or stayed in the Soviet Union, and permission for relatives to visit burial sites.  The issue remained untouched for roughly 40 years.

On June 20, 1990, academics and Red Cross officials from the Soviet Union convened a panel and found that the U.S.S.R. detained more than 594, 000 Japanese for forced labor after WWII, among this number, 546, 000 were taken to camps within the Soviet Union and forced into labor.  Most of these camps were in Siberia, but some were sent to Soviet Europe and the Caucasus for railroad construction, factory work, and other types of labor.  They found that in the course of the dentition, 46, 082 died.  What this proved was that military advances continued even after Japan’s surrender and that the Soviet Union did detain and use Japanese as forced laborers.  The panel therefore worked to get the Soviet government to make an official declaration and search for documents on the detainees kept in Soviet archives. 

In April 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev visited Japan and handed a list of dead POWs to government officials, formally admitting that 38, 000 had died.  Additionally, some remains of Japanese were returned to families and an agreement to allow families to visit the graves of their relatives in Siberia.  During his stay, Gorbachev offered “feelings of sympathy” for the internment of POWs.

On January 22, 1992, the Federation of Russia issued certificates to former Japanese POWs for their forced labor in Siberia.  The issuance of labor certificates paved the way for Japanese detainees to be compensated for their forced labor after the end of WWII.

On October 13, 1993, President Boris Yeltsin officially apologized to PM Morihiro Hosokawa for the inhumane treatment of Japanese POWs after WWII. 

     “The treatment of prisoners of war was the residue of  

     Soviet totalitarianism.  As President, and on behalf of

     the Russian people, I apologize for the inhumane


He also apologized to Emperor Akihito for the POWs who died in the labor camps and jails.

     “I would like to offer my deep condolences for the many

     Japanese who died on Russian territory in the past.” 

US Prisoner of War Visits to Japan

In an effort to show compensation and reconciliatory attitude towards previous prisoners of war from the Allied countries of World War II, the Japanese government invited previous American prisoners of war to visit Japan. These visits were conducted by US-Japan Dialogue on POWS, a US-based nonprofit organization. Click here to find out more about their work as well as annual visits by US POWS to Japan beginning in 2010.

Relevant News Articles

2010 September – Japan Offers ‘Heartfelt Apologies’ to US POWS

2010 September – Former US POWs Visit Japan as First-Time Guests

Relevant Official Statements

2010 September – Statement from Foreign Minister of Japan on this visit: Former Prisoners of War (POWs) from the United States Invited to Japan

2010 September – Former American Prisoners of War (POWs) Pay a Courtesy Call on Mr. Katsuya Okada, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan

2013 October – Official statements from the Japanese foreign ministry

2013 October – Former Prisoners of War (POWs) from the United States Pay Courtesy Call on Minister for Foreign Affairs Fumio Kishida

2013 October – Press Conference by Minister for Foreign Affairs Fumio Kishida

Other News Articles

2010 May – British POW kept in touch with Japanese camp guard for 64 years

2011 February – Ex-POW seeks rail firms’ apology – California high-speed line bidders urged to atone for slave labor past

2013 March – An account of POWs ‘in hell’

2014 April – Tortured POW meets his Japanese Tormentor