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Court admits germ warfare waged but refuses damages.

TOKYO, Aug. 27 Kyodo


The Tokyo District Court on Tuesday admitted Japan waged germ warfare in China during World War II and caused harm to residents, but it dismissed a claim by a group of Chinese plaintiffs that the government compensate for the atrocities.

It is the first time for a court to acknowledge that the Imperial Japanese Army waged germ warfare, carried out by the Unit 731, in China in the period before and during World War II.

While acknowledging that the germ attacks were ''cruel and inhumane,'' Presiding Judge Koji Iwata rejected the damages sought, saying, ''No international law that enables individuals to sue for war damages had been established at the time or has been now.''

The plaintiffs said they intend to appeal the case.

The existence of the army's Unit 731, which also carried out experiments on Chinese and other prisoners for development of biological weapons, has been acknowledged in other lawsuits.

However, Koken Tsuchiya, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the ruling is still significant in that the court has acknowledged the unit's culpability in an official judgment.

He expressed hope that the plaintiffs can counter the ruling in the appeals process, noting that the decision was simply grounded on a precedent.

The Justice Ministry said it views the ruling as verifying the validity of the government's argument.

Some plaintiffs expressed outrage at the ruling, calling a decision that denies damages unfair and unacceptable.

Others saw a more encouraging sign in the ruling, however.

''The presiding judge has done what he can do as a human being,'' said Wang Xuan, 50, leader of the plaintiffs group and resident of Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture. ''Japanese society will have to deal with this contradiction from now on,'' he said, referring to the court's acknowledgment of the unit's atrocities and its denial of the damages the plaintiffs sought.

But Xu Wanzhi, 61, of China's Hunan Province, said, ''It was a shock because we had anticipated a fair judgment. There is no room for accepting the ruling.''

Chen Zhifa, 69, of Zhejiang Province, said, ''It's unfair. The ruling is simply a pronouncement of ambiguous statements.''

Xu said he will fight the case to the end.

The lawsuit was filed with the Tokyo District Court in 1997 and 1999 by 180 people -- victims and relatives of deceased victims of the Imperial Japanese Army's germ warfare -- demanding 10 million yen each in damages and an apology from the government.

Judge Iwata said in handing down the ruling, ''The evidence shows that the Japanese troops, including Unit 731, used bacteriological weapons under the order of the Imperial Japanese Army's headquarters and that many local residents died.''

The plaintiffs claimed that the unit released fleas infected with bubonic plague and food dosed with cholera bacteria in Zhejiang and Hunan provinces between 1940 and 1942, killing many civilians.

They asserted that the actions of the Japanese troops violated international laws on the safety of occupied peoples and the civil codes.

They also accused the government of trying to hide the facts about the germ warfare and not taking any steps to redress the victims.

The government rejected the allegations, saying individuals have no right to seek compensation under international law.

The government also said it has no responsibility to compensate for acts conducted before the State Redress Law was enacted after the war, and that it has no legal responsibility to reveal the facts about germ warfare to the plaintiffs.

Though an international treaty banned germ warfare at that time, the army headquarters ordered it to be carried out in China. At the end of the war, the army tried to destroy evidence by demolishing Unit 731 facilities in northeastern China, according to military sources.

Details of Unit 731's activities came to light as a result of the disclosure of wartime U.S. government records and testimony by former unit members.

China waived its claims for compensation when it established diplomatic relations with Japan in 1972, in exchange for the Japanese government's expression of ''deep remorse and full realization of its responsibility'' in the Japan-China joint communique.
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Publication:Japan Policy & Politics
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Sep 2, 2002
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