"Japan should reflect on itself. Japan took away little kids and destroyed them, so it should apologize and pay compensation."
The first hearing in a lawsuit seeking damages from Japan for wartime sex slavery was held Wednesday at the Seoul Central District Court.
But no one from the Japanese government attended.
"I, Lee Yong-soo, am a living witness to history. Is Japan not confident in its case? If it is, then it should show up in court. If Japan's afraid of the comfort women statue, it should apologize."
The suit was first filed in December 2016 by Korean victims and the families of victims who'd already passed away.
But the trial was delayed because the Japanese government refused to participate.
So the court went with what's called "conveyance by public announcement."
It means the relevant documents are uploaded on the court bulletin board for two months, after which they're considered to have been delivered even if they haven't been acknowledged by the other party.
Over the course of the past three years, five former comfort women, including the outspoken activist Kim Bok-dong, have passed away.
Meanwhile, the legal battle is expected to be tough.
One of the biggest obstacles facing the plaintiffs is Japan's reliance on 'state immunity,' which is a principle of international law meaning a nation cannot be sued before the courts of another country without its consent.
But the attorneys representing the victims see hope in their case.
"The principles of international law are not unchangeable. Sexual slavery by Nazi Germany and Japan are among the most grave crimes to be tried since the 20th century. The issue of the comfort women taken by the Japanese military is especially critical, and has caused the UN and international society to address wartime sexual violence."
"We believe, in this case, state immunity should not be applied as Japan's wartime sexual slavery severely breached human rights."
The next hearing is set to take place on February 5th, 2020.
"Given that the comfort woman victims are all over the age of 85, this lawsuit could be their last chance to finally receive what they call Japan’s sincere apology. Kan Hyeong-woo, Arirang News."