Present situation and relief of Korean A-bomb survivors and unsolved issues
Solidarity for Peace And Reunification of Korea
Research Team for People’s Tribunal of 1945 A-bomb Dropping
Oh, Hye-ran / Juyeon JC Rhee
1st March , 2022
The number of Koreans who were exposed to radiation from the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 is estimated to be approximately 70,000 to 100,000, and the number of deaths is approximately 50,000. The majority of the Koreans who were impacted had been coercively conscripted laborers by the colonial Japanese government. Approximately 43,000 survivors went back to their hometowns in Korea after liberation and died from the aftereffects of atomic bombing. There are currently only 1,992 exposed 1st generation Koreans who are registered with the Korean A-bomb Victims Association.
There are 2,798 2nd generation exposed Koreans who are registered with the Korean A-bomb Victims Descendants Associations. In 2013, Gyeongsang South Province surveyed the 1,125 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generation survivors. 20.2% of the respondents had offspring with congenital abnormalities and hereditary diseases. The 1,300 second generation survivors are clear evidence of permanent damage that has been passed down from the atomic bomb dropping.
Koreans were threefold victims of the atomic bombing: Koreans were an oppressed ethnic group under Japan imperialism; they suffered in one of the most horrific events of the 20th century, the US atomic bombing; and the Korean government neglected and left them unattended. Accordingly, the demands of the Koreans can be summed up as acknowledgment of the victims, investigation into the victims, and for the Korean, US, and Japanese governments to accept responsibility, apologize, and provide compensation.
Unsolved Issues and requests for the Japanese Government
The Japanese government ignored the Korean atomic bomb victims, excluded them from the Support Act, and discriminated against them. Accordingly, the struggle for redress for the rights of the victims of the atomic bomb in Korea has been centered on collectively supporting individual lawsuits in order to overcome discrimination starting from 1970. As a result of these efforts, it was only in 2016 that Korean victims of the atomic bombing started to receive the same medical support as Japanese victims.
Among the demands made to the Japanese government, an unresolved matter is the issue of forced mobilization of Koreans by the Japanese colonial government. The victims are demanding an end to the distortion of history regarding Japan's aggression and colonial rule, a sincere apology, and compensation. In this regard, lawsuits for damages caused by war criminals such as Mitsubishi Corporation are in progress.
Unsolved Issues and requests for the Korean Government
After liberation in 1945, the Korean government has neglected to protect the victims of the atomic bombing. Accordingly, victims and second and third-generation victims have been demanding an enactment of the SPECIAL ACT ON THE SUPPORT FOR KOREAN ATOMIC BOMB VICTIMS, a full-scale investigation into the victims and support measures, and compensation for victims excluded from the Korea-Japan Agreement for decades.
In May 2016, the Korean National Assembly enacted the Special Act to Support Atomic Bomb Victims. However, the second and third-generation survivors were excluded from this support. Therefore, the Special Act needs to be amended so that even the second and third-generation victims can receive governmental support. Some of the request of the victims have been accepted--for example, the creation of a memorial park for the victims and the investigation on genetic damage of the atomic bomb. The Korean government has outsourced some research projects on genetic damages since 2020.
Korea is the second country exposed to and suffered from radiation after Japan. However, the Korean government has never conducted a full-scale investigation into the actual conditions of the damage. As a result, records and materials about the victims of the atomic bomb in Korea continue to be scattered or lost.
In response, Solidarity for Peace and Reunification of Korea (SPARK) is working with the Korea Atomic Bomb Victims Association to collect and publish records related to the atomic bomb victims. In February 2022, a total of 11 volumes of books in 4 series were published, including the <1972 Hapcheon Atomic Bomb Victims Survey>, which is a record of the Hapcheon Atomic Bomb Victims in 1970s. In addition, since 2019, we have collected oral testimony from approximately 100 victims, which we are planning to publish at a later time. Since the average age of the first-generation victim is about 87, additional oral testimony collection of these victims are urgently needed.
Requests to the U.S. Government and Preparations for People’s Tribunal
Efforts to hold the US accountable began in 2015 with the appeal by the Korean A-bomb victims at the 9th NPT Review Conference. A Korean A-bomb victim, Mr. Shim Jin-tae and a father of a second generation victim, Mr. Kim Bong-Dae stressed to the representatives of peace organizations from all over the world that there should be an effort to hold the US government responsible for dropping nuclear weapons. A second generation victim, Kim Hyeong-ryul devoted his life to publicize the aftereffects of the second-generation atomic bomb victims during his short life. He acted as a facilitator in urging the first-generation victims to take action to hold the US government accountable.
“The atomic bomb victims needs to join forces to hold the US accountable for using nuclear weapons… The United Nations, a symbol of world peace, must solve the problem of damage from atomic bombs and dismantle all nuclear weapons. Let's act not just for us, but for future generations and world peace. There is no peace as long as there are nuclear weapons. Let’s create solidarity among the atomic bomb victims in order to put pressure on every government of all countries, and make a UN General Assembly resolution to support all of the a-bomb victims.” (May. 1, 2015 Shim Jin-tae)
The decision to pursue a people’s tribunal by the Korean atomic bomb victims is because “there are victims, but there are no perpetrators who are accountable.” It follows a belief that “to realize a world without nuclear weapons, the US must be held accountable for the original sin”.
SPARK, along with the victims themselves, considered the possibility of litigation in the US court, but was confronted by some practical barriers such as sovereign immunities and indemnity clauses in U.S. and international laws.
Accordingly, we are currently preparing for a people’s tribunal to hold the US government accountable for crimes against humanity, and then will seek an actual litigation path based on the contents and evidences accumulated through the people’s tribunal.
We are aiming to host a people’s tribunal between 2025 and 2026, and in the meantime, we are planning to hold at least one academic conference in Korea and two or three international forums in Japan and the United States. We are holding monthly preparatory meetings for the people’s tribunal. Currently, in the preparatory meetings, we are reviewing the Shimoda trial, the 1996 International Court of Justice (ICJ) judgments and the opinions of dissenting judges.
Information disclosure and data research in the United States are also being conducted at the same time. We will research Japanese and Korean data at a later time. As the age of the potential plaintiffs of the lawsuit is approaching 80, they only have a few years left to stay active. We have to admit that talented academics and many organizations are hesitant and reluctant to participate in the preparatory meetings because standing against the U.S. government is highly burdensome. There is also a plan to mobilize lawyers and legal scholars who stand against nuclear weapons to form an anti-nuclear lawyers association.
As this is the current situation, we solicit support and participation of the Japan Council against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs (Gensuikyo), International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms, and U.S. peace organizations, who have much more experiences. They will be a great help in successfully hosting a people’s tribunal. We look forward to your attention and participation, and let's build solidarity in other ways to realize a world without nuclear weapons!