Abolish Nuclear Weapons, Now!

Global Hibakusha Testify to Their Suffering


Kwak Kwi-Hoon

Former President

Korean A-Bomb Casualty Association



1. Situation of Hibakusha in South Korea and North Korea

   During the Pacific War, Japan forcibly brought Koreans into Japan as if they were slaves and deprived them of their lives by abusing them in many dangerous military facilities, construction sites, or battle lines.  Of these atrocities, the worst example was the suffering from the atomic bombings.

   At the time when the war ended, about 2,360,000 Koreans were in Japan.  As of late 1944, about 140,000 of them had their residency in Hiroshima and Nagasaki prefectures.  Therefore, we estimate that about half of them were probably living in the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki when the A-bombs were dropped.

   Of about 50,000 Koreans who were exposed to the A-bombing in Hiroshima, 30,000 are assumed to have been killed, while out of 20,000 who were A-bombed in Nagasaki, probably 10,000 were killed.  Of the remaining 30,000 Koreans, 23,000 returned home and 7,000 stayed in Japan.  Thus, 10 percent of the 700,000 people who suffered the A-bombings in Japan were assumed to be Koreans.

   Those who were forcibly brought to Japan had been in poverty in Korea and most of them did not have much education.  So, when they returned to their homeland, most of them had no home or land to live in.  They were discriminated against because of their changed appearances.  They had neither home nor food, suffered from aftereffects caused by the A-bombs, with no hospital to turn to or no medicines to cure their diseases.  They died with grudge against Japan.

   Almost 90 percent of those Korean Hibakusha have passed away and 10 percent still survive today.  It should be easy for the Japanese government to issue these Korean survivors Hibakusha certificates, if they have a will to acknowledge them.  But even those who have difficulties in moving out of bed must travel to Japan to apply for a Hibakusha certificate.


2. Requests on the Japanese government

   We have consistently demanded that the Japanese government apologize and provide compensation to us for our damage caused by the A-bombing, because it was Japan that forcibly brought us into that country.  Japan continued to dodge its responsibility and ignored us by saying that the matter "was already settled," although the normalization of diplomatic relations treaty between Japan and South Korea did not even refer to a word on this matter.  Thus, since 1970s, we have filed lawsuits against the Japanese government and are still fighting in the court.

   On March 30 in 1974, Japan lost the case in the Fukuoka District Court.  The ruling ordered the Japanese government to issue Hibakusha certificates to the Korean applicants.  On July 22 the same year when we applied for the certificates, the Ministry of Health and Welfare released Official Notice 402 (which stated that the allowances for the Hibakusha were limited to those who resided in Japan), thus deprived our long-awaited Hibakusha certificate of its effectiveness.

   We won a victory in the High court and the Supreme Court, but the Japanese government kept discriminating against Korean Hibakusha in its deliberations the panel on the basic questions of the Hibakusha.

   In 1998, after 25 years of such an unreasonable treatment, I filed a lawsuit with the Osaka District Court against the Osaka governor and the Japanese government, calling for my eligibility for the Hibakusha Aid Law.  As you may know, I won in the Osaka District Court.  After the Japanese government gave up appealing to a higher court, about 5,000 Hibakusha living outside Japan became eligible to the Hibakusha Aid Law in March 2003.

   While refusing to admit its defeat in the court, the Japanese government announced that it would set out relief measures for the Hibakusha living outside Japan, saying that these are taken from humanitarian viewpoints for the aging Hibakusha.  Still, we have been fighting in more than 20 lawsuits in order to remove various barriers.  For example, we must die in Japan to receive funeral assistance; Even bedridden Korean Hibakusha must attach a medical certificate written by Japanese doctors, and if not, their applications through their lawyers will be rejected. The Japanese government is making us suffer by twisting arguments in a variety of ways.  Now that sixty-one years have passed, an average age of Korean Hibakusha is 74 years old.  I don't think there is much time left for us.

   To sum up the past decisions in courts, the Supreme Court concerning Korean Hibakusha Son Jin-Du case ruled that the then two laws for A-bomb victims contained the spirit of state compensation.  The Osaka District Court concerning my case ruled that the Hibakusha Aid Law contains both state compensation and social security services.

   In the lawsuit on the forced workers in Mitsubishi factories, the Hiroshima High Court ruled that Notice 402 that had afflicted Hibakusha living outside Japan was based on misinterpretation and misusage of the law, and ordered the Japanese government to pay 1,200,000 yen per Hibakusha abroad.  This high court's decision should be the very rule of common sense in a human society, far better than the humanitarian assistance that the Japanese government propagates.

   During the trial, always argued, "No matter where we live, Hibakusha are Hibakusha."  Indeed, wherever we are, in Korea or in the United States, Hibakusha are still Hibakusha.  In this perspective, we have the right to receive the equal treatment with the Japanese Hibakusha, but unfortunately there are many disparities between us.  They include a ceiling of 130,000 Japanese yen for medical expense allowance and the lack of nursing-care allowance.  I think a true humanitarian way should be that the Japanese government sends an examiner to where the Hibakusha live to judge whether or not they, especially bedridden ones, are certified as Hibakusha. If they are recognized as the Hibakusha, the certificate should be issued on site and relief measures should be taken for them.

   Most of 1,000 Hibakusha who returned to North Korea have died.  The number of Hibakusha who returned in accordance with the Japanese government's repatriation program was 915 (767 from Hiroshima and 162 from Nagasaki).  Relief measures should also be provided to all these Hibakusha whatever ways possible.  Although the relationship between Japan and North Korea is in a difficult stage, it will be contrary to humanity if Japan continues to abandon them, after leaving them without relief for more than 60 years.  We assume that North Korean Hibakusha are in a very poor situation both in their livelihoods and medical care.



3. Solidarity with peace movements

  We Hibakusha, as a matter of course, have desired, and continue to appeal for, the abolition of nuclear weapons in the world.  However, everyone would agree that we are still in a gloomy situation concerning nuclear weapons.

   Particularly, those who live in the Korean Peninsula cannot overlook the issue of nuclear weapons. If North Korea or South Korea has these weapons, Korean unification will be impossible because power balance will be disrupted.  In the Republic of South Africa when the power changed from the hands of white people to native people, they abandoned their nuclear weapons.

   The South Korean government has declared a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.  The world in unison makes efforts to urge North Korea to give up its nuclear development program in a variety of ways, including the six-party talks.  Results, however, are not forthcoming.  We get tired of waiting for the time when we will be able to sleep without fear.

   The U.S. government promised to give India cooperation in nuclear industry, although India is not a member of the NPT.  It invaded Iraq under the pretext that Iraq possessed nuclear weapons even though the country did not have such weapons. Iran is now pushing ahead with its nuclear development program, arguing that it has the right to develop nuclear technology.  North Korea is threatening us by saying that it has developed an atomic bomb or has accumulated nuclear materials enough to create such bombs.

   If North Korea really possesses nuclear weapons, South Korea will take appropriate measures in response to it, and Japan will no longer look to peace without nuclear weapons.  There is 40 tons of plutonium in Japan.  Eight tons of plutonium will be added every year at a reprocessing plant in Rokkasho Village, Aomori Prefecture, but the purpose of the stored plutonium is unclear. What we are worried about is that someday Japan's ultra right politicians will promote a nuclear-armed Japan and Japanese citizens may give applause to them.  I've heard that taking Japanese industrial power into account, Japan can produce a nuclear weapon within three months.

   The Japan-U.S. military alliance makes people worry that some countries may immediately attack Japan, but none of the neighboring countries have any intention to invade Japan.  There is no need to dream of turning Japan into a nuclear-armed nation.

   Due to some people who spread around that the A-bombs brought an early independence to Korea, for a long time we could not appeal publicly about the damage and aftereffects caused by the A-bombs.  And at one time we even had to live side by side with 700-1000 nuclear warheads deployed in South Korea under the strong U.S. influence.  These conditions forced us to limit our communication with only a few Hibakusha organizations in Japan.

   Under such circumstances, the first thing we must do was to tell our real situations and suffering from the A-bombing to the Japanese government and civil society as well as to mass media, in order to win relief measures for the Korean Hibakusha.  We put more priority on this than our involvement in peace movement in general.  Korean society and the government regarded our activities as fire on the other side of the river.  For a long time, the military government in South Korea also was a great obstacle for citizens' movement to grow.  But only recently, we have been in frequent contacts with the Japanese Hibakusha organizations, and have more opportunities to go abroad to speak about our tragedies caused by the A-bombs.  The activities to support the Hibakusha in Korea has just began.  We will do our best to develop our movements.