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Japanese Court Rejects Claim by Victims of Wartime Bio-Warfare Tests in China - 2002-08-27

A Tokyo court acknowledges for the first time Japan's use of germ warfare during World War II. The court, however, rejected a lawsuit by a group claiming their relatives were victims of Japanese war crimes in China. The case brings to light details about Japan's biological weapon program in the 1930s and '40s.

The Tokyo district court dismissed an attempt by a group of Chinese citizens to sue the Japanese government for crimes before and during World War II. The court ruled that under international law foreigners cannot seek compensation from the Japanese government. Yet for the first time, a Japanese court acknowledged testimony on Japanese germ warfare as believable.

The suit, filed in 1997 by 180 Chinese plaintiffs, claims thousands of Chinese victims died in outbreaks of cholera, dysentery, anthrax and typhoid linked to Japanese experiments. They asked that the Japanese government pay $83,000 to each plaintiff and apologize for the suffering caused by the army's Unit 731 - a secret force involved in developing germ warfare.

Historians estimate that as many as 250,000 people perished in experiments during the 1930s and 1940s in China. Japan has refused to confirm those accounts.

Wang Xuan, spokeswoman from the group of plaintiffs says her relatives were victims of epidemics created by Japanese forces. "In my great-grandfather's family, nine people died of plague and in my father's family, my uncle, he was 13 years old when he died of plague," she said.

Speaking before the verdict was issued, Ms. Wang urged the Japanese government to admit to engaging in germ warfare and apologize for war crimes.

Although dismissed, the case shed light on Unit 731's activities, which included vivisection of captives. The latest revelations emerge as documents confiscated by the United States after World War II are being declassified. None of the unit's members have been tried for wartime atrocities.

The lawsuit is one of many brought against the Japanese government and companies linked to Japan's aggression during the first half of the twentieth century. Tokyo has argued that post-war treaties protect the government from such claims, and Japanese courts have rejected the majority of these cases.