South Korea is currently revising its interpretation of Japanese colonialism, and the fallout from World War II more generally. In 2018, the Supreme Court of South Korea issued two opinions that staked new ground in this process of legal revision. First, by holding Japanese multinational enterprises legally liable for events that took place in the early 20th century, the verdicts fissure a wall of corporate impunity that courts in Japan, the United States and many Western jurisdictions have erected over the past three decades. Second, by situating the decisions within Korea’s own colonial past, the judgments advance a post-colonial jurisprudence that many scholars have long discussed, but few judgments have actually explored. In particular, the narrative of colonial illegality—accepted by some scholars, but relatively few judges—may finally make inroads into the jurisprudence of economically developed countries. Third, just as repairing colonialism has come to the fore in contemporary debates of law, politics and society, issues of World War II liability—legal, financial, historical, and otherwise—will likely face revisions in the years to come.
Timothy Webster, South Korea Shatters the Paradigm: Corporate Liability, Historical Accountability, and the Second World War, 26 UCLA J. INT’L L. & FOREIGN AFFS. 123 (2022).