According to Yonhap News Agency, 29 victims and 12 relatives of surviving and deceased "comfort women" brought the case to the Constitutional Court in 2016. The claimants argued that the 2015 Tokyo-Seoul deal, which set forth that Japan would establish a foundation and donate 1 billion yen ($9.1 million) to support victims of wartime sex slavery, violated the rights of the victims.
However, the court rejected the petition, claiming that the deal was diplomatic in nature and could not be subject to its review.
"Various assessments of the deal are in the realm of politics as it is the judgment of diplomatic policy to seek the solution of the history issue and continue cooperation between the two nations," the court ruled, as quoted by the agency.
The 2015 deal was signed by the government of then-President Park Guen-hye, which sought a final resolution to the "comfort women" row. However, current President Moon Jae-in has been a critic of the deal and disbanded the Japanese foundation in July in a move that Tokyo criticized.
The South Korean court's ruling came amid an escalation in relations between the two neighbors. Tensions between Seoul and Tokyo became frayed after South Korea’s Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that Japanese firms alleged to have used South Koreans as forced laborers during World War II must pay compensation. In response, Japan added stricter customs procedures to over 1,000 export items, many of which are vital to South Korea’s technological industry.
The issue of "comfort women" has remained a stumbling block in relations between South Korea and Japan. Tokyo has frequently cited a 1965 agreement signed with Seoul that established diplomatic ties between the two countries. The terms of the deal stipulated that Japan would give South Korea $800 million in economic assistance to normalize bilateral relations.