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Forced labourers may file collective suit
( 2002-01-15 00:24 ) (1 )

Chinese lawyers are calling for former forced labourers in Japan to present lawsuits together rather than dilute their compensation claims by independently launching legal action.

Zhu Miaochun, chief attorney representing Shen Wenbao, 74-year-old, who was forced to work in Japan during the Second World War, said Monday: "Many cases of forced labourers currently state different compensation claims which leads to discrepancies in their civil actions..

"We need a mechanism that permits consultation.''

Zhu said the All-China Lawyers Association -- the largest representative body for the nation's attorneys -- is considering setting up an agency co-ordinating the cases of Chinese forced workers.

"The agency can research all compensation claims ranging from comfort women, forced labourers, victims of germ warfare and massacre survivors that are all relevant issues in the light of Japan's wartime misdeeds,'' said Zhu.

Zhu said that contrary to some media reports, he had not decided whether to file Shen's case in the US, China or Japan.

He also denied reports made in the past two days that he was contacting Barry Fisher, an American lawyer renowned for winning the compensation case filed by Jews against Germany for its wartime atrocities.

But for Shen Wenbao, who is retired and hard of hearing, the sooner the case can be heard in court, the better.

Shanghai-born Shen was trafficked by the Japanese army to work in a coal mine in Japan in 1944 when he was just 16 years old.

Together with another 351 Chinese workers, Shen was forced to toil 16 hours a day in the mine when any sign of fatigue was met with a crack of the whip or kick by the Japanese supervisors.

Only two simple meals were served a day consisting of rice and some vegetables, and Shen was only given one set of cotton clothes.

At night he was herded into a windowless house with hundreds of other workers where he could not tell the difference between day and night.

"All I thought was that my life was over. I was merely waiting for death,'' said Shen. "I was treated as sub-human and was jeered at by supervisors who looked upon me as simply a slave.''

Whipping and torture at the hands of his supervisors was not uncommon.

He recalled one occasion when he was sick and moved slowly in the mine and the supervisors beat his back with a makeshift truncheon. Despite being almost unable to rise from bed the next day, Shen was dargged to work by the supervisors.

But Shen said he was lucky because two of his workmates, who tried to escape from the mine, were seized and killed by the supervisors.

"I can still picture the horrible scene. Their bony body was a mess after the beating they took. Flesh were everywhere with bones sticking through,'' Shen said.

Shen was among tens of thousands of Chinese forced labourers -- most of them teenagers or in their 20s -- taken by force to work as coolies in Japan's mines during the Second World War.

But he managed to survive until Japan surrendered in 1945 when he was shipped back to China and now lives in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Three years ago he was so inspired by news reports that some forced labourers have won compensation for the wartime atrocity that he decided to look at the prospects of legal action.

"I am getting old and have no idea when I will die. I just hope compensation can be secured before that happens,'' said Shen. "I think about how happy I will be if I can see that justice to some extent is done.''

(China Daily Zeng Min)



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