| A man holds a portrait of a victim of Japanese germ warfare in Tokyo. (AFP)
Tokyo, Aug. 27 (Reuters): A Japanese court today recognised for the first time that Japan had conducted biological warfare in China during World War II — something that has never been officially acknowledged by the Japanese government.
But the Tokyo district court rejected a lawsuit for damages filed against the Japanese government by Chinese people who said their relatives were killed in the germ warfare.
The 180 Chinese plaintiffs had demanded that Japan pay them compensation of 10 million yen ($83,430) each and apologise for the activities of biological warfare units such as the infamous Unit 731.
In dismissing the suit, the court said international law did not recognise the right of individuals to seek compensation from a state for damages suffered during war.
“It’s positive that the court recognised the fact,” said Kohken Tsuchiya, who headed the Japanese legal team acting for the plaintiffs. “However, it's still a loss for the plaintiffs so we would like to appeal.”
The plaintiffs did not hide their bitterness.
“My father died of plague, my elder brother died of plague. But it’s all over in a few minutes at the court, it’s unfair,” 71-year-old Chen Zhifa from Yiwu city in eastern Zhejiang province told reporters through an interpreter.
“I was so disappointed and angry at the verdict,” said 62-year-old Xu Wanzhi, a plaintiff from central Hunan Province.
“Of course we are not going to accept a verdict like this... We are ready for a prolonged fight,” he said, adding that his son and grandson would continue the fight if he died.
The plaintiffs said there were eight outbreaks of plague or cholera in China’s eastern Zhejiang province and central Hunan province from 1940 to 1942, which they alleged was the result of germ warfare by Japanese forces.
Germ warfare was already illegal under international law at the time.
When asked about the court’s rejection of the lawsuit, Hideki Hama, director of the civil litigation division at the justice ministry, said: “We understand that the (Japanese) government’s legal assertion was recognised.”
The Japanese government’s position as defendants in the case, was that there was no legal basis for the plaintiffs to seek compensation from it, Hama said.
Hama declined to comment on the court’s decision to recognise the fact that Japanese forces had waged germ warfare.