Victims of Japan's war-era mustard gas return to Tokyo court in latest bid for compensation
At 1.67 meters, Gao Ming is average height for a 17-year-old, but she is extremely thin. And very shy.
"She wasn't always like this," said Chen Shuxia, her mother. "She used to be really outgoing when she was a little girl."
Things changed when, at 8 years old, Gao was exposed to mustard gas that had leaked from five canisters of unused Japanese munitions that were unearthed at a construction site near her home.
"After that, my daughter was never the same. It affected her body and mind," said Chen, 47. "She's sensitive and self-conscious now, and doesn't like talking with people. She's very susceptible to colds and has no appetite. She weighs just 43 kg."
One man died and 43 other people were sickened by the toxic leak in Qiqihar, Heilongjiang province, on Aug 4, 2003. Since then, survivors and their families have had to live with the pain, both mental and physical.
With the help of their Chinese and Japanese lawyers, they will continue their nine-year battle for an apology and compensation from the Japanese government on Friday, when Tokyo District Court will hold a second hearing on their class-action lawsuit.
"We urgently need to win this lawsuit and agree on a system of compensation as soon as possible," said Yukiko Tominaga, one of the Japanese attorneys representing victims, through a translator after she met with families in Qiqihar on Wednesday.
"Tremendous damage was done by the mustard gas. Many of the victims are now middle aged and in a very dangerous situation, at risk from cancer and other life-threatening conditions."
After invading China in the 1930s, the Japanese army produced a vast amount of chemical weapons. At least 2 million metric tons was buried or abandoned when Japan surrendered in 1945, according to China's Foreign Ministry.
Since then, these lethal relics of World War II have been discovered nationwide, mostly in northeastern areas, and have caused the deaths of 2,000 people.
China and Japan both joined the United Nations Chemical Weapons Convention in 1997 and two years later signed a memorandum in which Japan agreed to provide all necessary funds, equipment and personnel for the retrieval and destruction of the chemical weapons its army abandoned, by 2007.
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