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World War II toxic gas victims denied again

Publication Date : 24-09-2012


Court concedes leak caused harm but rejects claim for compensation

Chinese victims of a toxic leak caused by abandoned World War II weapons vowed yesterday to continue to fight for compensation and an apology from the Japanese government, even though their second attempt to take legal action in the case has been rejected by Tokyo judges.

One man died and 43 other people were poisoned on Aug. 4, 2003, when five canisters of Japanese mustard gas were unearthed at a construction site in Qiqihar, Heilongjiang province.

Since 2005, the survivors of the incident and their families have been locked in a legal battle with the Japanese authorities and have tried twice to pursue lawsuits in the Tokyo District Court.

Their latest attempt at filing a class action suit, which involved 48 plaintiffs, was rejected last Friday.

"We will not give up now," Niu Haiying, one of the victims and unofficial spokeswoman for the plaintiffs, said yesterday. "We'll take our fight to the end, as far as the legal system will allow us."

Niu, who spoke from a hospital bed in Qiqihar where she has been receiving treatment for a cold and swollen eyes, said the group's third appeal will be submitted to Japan's Supreme Court.

Since the accident in 2003, she said, she has had frequent health troubles, including recurrent stomach pain.

Other victims of the exposure have suffered similar ill effects, and two of the survivors have died, according to lawyers working on the case.

In turning down the lawsuit yesterday, the court virtually repeated the ruling that was made in the first lawsuit to be rejected, which was heard on May 24, 2010.

The court conceded that the mustard gas had caused harm and that the facts of the case had been fully proved on Friday, according to the victims' lawyers. Even so, it said that chemical weapons had been abandoned over a large area and that no priority could be given to one particular case of poisoning.

After invading China in the 1930s, the Japanese army produced a vast amount of chemical weapons, of which at least 2 million metric tonnes was buried or abandoned when Japan surrendered in 1945, according to China's Foreign Ministry.

Since then, the lethal relics have been discovered in many places throughout the country — mostly in the northeast. About 2,000 people have died as a result.

"The verdict was absurd, as the court conceded all the facts and proved the lawsuit," Li Lou, a Chinese-Japanese in charge of general affairs for the legal team assisting the victims, said on Sunday.

He said representatives of the plaintiffs and various NGOs are expected to join a rally that will take place today outside the buildings housing the Japanese Diet and House of Representatives to make more people aware of the case.

Li said preparations are being made to file an appeal. Li is part of a legal team that was set up in 2004 to help the victims of the Qiqihar accident.

"At first, I joined the team [in 2004] purely out of sympathy," he said. "But eventually I realised I have an obligation to help them win this battle. They really need our help. Many of them are migrant workers or farmers."

Most of the victims are barely educated and many lost their ability to work in the accident, he said.

Aware of those circumstances, lawyers in both countries have been providing legal services free of charge. Chinese attorneys have helped collect evidence and statements and their counterparts in Japan have argued the case in Tokyo.

The plaintiffs say they want an apology and compensation from the Japanese government, as well as the disposal of all chemical weapons that have been abandoned in China.

Meanwhile, Li Lou said his legal team will encourage the Japanese government to set up a long-term system to help victims deal with healthcare and living costs.

Another Qiqihar law firm offered its services for free yesterday.

"The Japanese lawyers are so warmhearted," said Chi Susheng, director of the Susheng Law Firm. "As a lawyer in Qiqihar, I feel I also have a responsibility to help."


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