In January, Amnesty International praised a South Korean court ruling as the first time Japan had been held accountable by a court for forcing hundreds of thousands of women and girls into sexual slavery during World War II. There was shock and dismay Wednesday as another judge in the same court rejected the earlier ruling, saying Japan is protected by state immunity that prevents such action by foreign courts and no exception should be made, reports Reuters. The January ruling stated that Japan's treatment of the "comfort women" was a crime against humanity Japan could not claim immunity for. The country was ordered to pay around $90,000 each to a small group of Korean women.
"This court does not disagree that the victims have the right to claim compensation," read the latest ruling. "But as of now, suing a foreign country cannot be allowed." The lawsuit was filed in 2016 by 20 plaintiffs, including 11 former "comfort women," the New York Times reports. Only five of the women, all in their 80s or 90s, survived to see the January ruling. The oldest survivor, 99-year-old Jeong Bok-soo, died in February. "All I can say is that I am dumbfounded," another survivor, 92-year-old Lee Yong-soo, said after Wednesday's ruling, per the Wall Street Journal. Japan argues that the issue was settled in a 2015 deal that survivors criticized for not going far enough. The plaintiffs plan to appeal the ruling to international courts and a higher court in South Korea. (Read more comfort women stories.)