Dutch POWs and Civilian Detainees

Filed: January 24, 1994

Eight Dutch citizens, seven men (one former POW and six civilians), and one former comfort woman, filed a lawsuit against the Japanese government on January 24, 1994 with the Tokyo District Court demanding $22,000 /  ¥2.45 million each (total of $176,000) in compensation for their maltreatment during WW II.  This was the first time that Europeans filed such a lawsuit against the Japanese government.  The plaintiffs are members of the Foundation of Japanese Honorary Debts, headquartered in The Hague, which consists of former POWs, comfort women, and their families.

The plaintiffs allege that the Imperial Japanese Army pressed them into forced labor and tortured them during their detainment after they were captured in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) in 1942.  One of the plaintiffs, Sjoerd Albert Lapre, claimed that he was captured in April 1942 by the Japanese army in Indonesia, then under Dutch control.  He stated that he was forced to work and that he was kicked and beaten by Japanese soldiers during his detention.  Elly Corry Van Der Ploeg stated that she was detained in March 1942, soon after having graduated from high school, and was made a ‘comfort woman’ by being forced to have sex with Japanese soldiers.  All eight plaintiffs asserted that they were still suffering mental effects because of the violent treatment they received in internment camps and as a result of their being pressed into forced labor.  Overall, the lawsuit stated that the Japanese Imperial Army’s acts violated Geneva Conventions and other international agreements, like the 1907 Hague Convention, prohibiting torture of POWs as well as women.

The Tokyo District Court’s decision was made on November 30, 1998 (Japanese text of the court’s decision) and the claims of the Dutch citizens were dismissed.  Presiding judge Taichi Kajimura accepted the plaintiffs’ argument they were ill-treated or driven into forced labor, but rejected their demands stating that international law did not give individuals the right to seek redress for suffering during war.  He further stated that the Japanese government already paid compensation to former Dutch POWs and civilian internees under the terms of the San Francisco Peace Treaty in 1951 and a bilateral protocol in 1956. Thus, the issue was settled on a government-to-government level.

The plaintiffs appealed to the Tokyo High Court on December 2, 1998.  The Tokyo High Court’s decision was made on October 11, 2001 dismissing the appeal by upholding the District Court’s ruling.  In handing down the decision, Presiding Judge Shigeki Aso stated that compensation for any war victim was provided for members of respective countries collectively through peace treaty negotiations.  He added that the Hague Convention did not provide for individual compensation demands as the plaintiffs had claimed.  Finally, Judge Aso stated that should the right to claim be recognized for individuals, it would not only benefit victor nations and leave losing nations at a further disadvantage, but it would also impede reestablishment of peace and reconstruction.

On October 24, 2001, the plaintiffs made their final appeal to Japan’s Supreme Court.  On March 30, 2004, the Japanese Supreme Court rejected the appeal, along with another appeal being lodged by seven former POWs from the UK, US, Australia, and New Zealand.  The Supreme Court ruling upheld the lower courts’ decisions and reasoning and ended the plaintiffs’ judicial avenues for redress in Japan.