skip navigation

Vinuya et al. v. Executive Secretary et al.

Court Supreme Court, Philippines
Case number G.R. No. 162230
Decision title Decision
Decision date 28 April 2010
  • Isabelita C. Vinuya et al.
  • The Honorable Executive Secretary Alberto G. Romulo et al.
Categories Crimes against humanity
Keywords Accountability; Head of State; state organs; crimes against humanity; rape; sexual slavery; World War II; ‘comfort women’
Other countries involved
  • Japan
back to top


The petitioners were members of the non-governmental organisation Malaya Lolas, acting on behalf of the so-called ‘comfort women’ who during World War II, in December 1937, were kidnapped from their homes by Japanese soldiers. They were brought to barracks-like buildings where they had to live, and where they were repeatedly beaten, raped and abused. During that time, the young women were forced to have sex with as many as 30 Japanese soldiers per day.

The petitioners filed a case asking for support from the Philippine government in their action against Japan, who had previously rejected claims for compensation. The Supreme Court of the Philippines, however, refused to oblige the government to provide that support.

back to top

Procedural history

Prior to the proceedings in the Philippines, a petition was filed before Japanese courts for compensation. The petition was dismissed because the Court ruled that the ‘comfort women’ did not have personality under international law. According to the Japanese Court, the claims of the ‘comfort women’ had to be supported by the Philippines.

On 4 December 2001, the Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery, a people’s tribunal established by Asian women, human rights organisations and international NGO’s, rendered its final judgment. The Tribunal found that the ‘“comfort system” was designed and maintained to facilitate the rape and sexual slavery of tens of thousands of young girls and women from occupied or conquered territories in the Asia-Pacific region in order to facilitate the war effort’ (para. 89). As the scale of the ‘comfort system’ was so widespread and organised, no other conclusion could be reached than that it ‘was state-sanctioned rape and enslavement’ (para. 90).

In 2004, as a result, the non-governmental organisation (NGO) Malaya Lolas filed a case before the Philippine Supreme Court on behalf of 70 Filipino ‘comfort women’ to compel the Philippine government to support their claims for compensation from Japan.

back to top

Related developments

The Korean Constitutional Court, ruling on a petition with the same issues as those before the Philippine Supreme Court, ruled that Korea must espouse the claim of the Korean ‘comfort women’. 

back to top

Legally relevant facts

This case concerns a petition filed by the Malaya Lolas, a NGO acting  on behalf of victims of rape in the Philippines committed by Japanese military forces during World War II. In particular, in the period between 1937 and 1945, an estimated number of 200,000 young Asian women were abducted from their homes by the Japanese Imperial Forces and were forced to serve as sex slaves, also known as ‘comfort women’, for more than 2 million Japanese soldiers and officers.

The petitioners claimed that the ‘comfort women system’ established by Japan, and the brutal rape and enslavement of the ‘comfort women’ constituted a crime against humanity, sexual slavery, and torture (p. 5). They alleged that the Philippine government breached its obligation not to afford impunity for crimes against humanity by waiving the claims of Filipina comfort women and failing to espouse their complaints against Japan.

The petition on behalf of the group of ‘comfort women’ sought to compel the Philippine government to demand an official apology and seek reparations from the Japanese government, in particular before the International Court of Justice.

back to top

Core legal questions

Was the general waiver of claims made by the Philippine government in the Treaty of Peace with Japan void? (p. 5)

Was the Philippine government’s acceptance of the ‘apologies’ made by Japan contrary to international law? (p. 6)

Did the Executive Department commit grave abuse of discretion in not espousing petitioners’ claims for official apology and other forms of reparations against Japan? (p. 20)

back to top

Specific legal rules and provisions

Draft Articles on Diplomatic Protection with commentaries, 2006, International Law Commission:

  • Article 1 - Definition and scope (Commentary (3))

  • Article 2 - Right to exercise diplomatic protection (Commentary (1))
back to top

Court's holding and analysis

In a heavily criticised decision, the Supreme Court of the Philippines dismissed the petition for lack of merit.

The Court held that it was the Executive that had exclusive power to espouse the petitioners’ claim (p. 20). The Executive had already decided to waive all claims of its nationals against the Japanese government in the 1951 Treaty of Peace Act. The Court held that it does not have the power to question that decision (p. 22).

Furthermore, the Court declared that despite its sympathy for the victims, it was not within its power to order the Executive to take up the petitioners’ claims. The Court held that ‘to overturn the Executive Department’s determination would mean an assessment of the foreign policy judgments by a coordinate political branch to which authority to make that judgment has been constitutionally committed’ (p. 23).

The Court further declared that the Philippine government ‘is not under any international obligation to espouse petitioners’ claims’. The Court explained that an individual can only bring a claim within the international legal system when a government will bring a claim on behalf of the individual (p. 27). Therefore, it is the state’sdiscretionary power to decide whether and to what extent it offers diplomatic protection to an individual (p. 29).

The Court affirmed that ‘rape, sexual slavery, torture, and sexual violence are morally reprehensible as well as legally prohibited under contemporary international law’ (p. 31), but stated that ‘the practice of states does not yet support the present existence of an obligation to prosecute international crimes’ (p. 33).

back to top

Further analysis

Statement by Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama "On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the war's end"’ [in Korean] [in Japanese], Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, 15 August 1995.

Report on the mission to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the Republic of Korea and Japan on the issue of military sexual slavery in wartime’ [in Japanese], UN Doc. E/CN.4/1996/53/Add.1, UN Economic and Social Council, 4 January 1996.

Statement by Prime Minister Naoto Kan’ [in Korean] [in Japanese], 10 August 2010.

back to top

Instruments cited

back to top

Related cases

United States Court of Appeal, District of Columbia (United States), Hwang Geum Joo et al. v. Japan, Minister Yohei Kono, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Case No. 01-7169, Opinion of the Court, 28 June 2005.

back to top

Additional materials

Judicial Proceedings: Comfort Women’, Memory & Reconciliation in the Asia-Pacific.

A. Escandor, ‘Still no justice for Philippines’ ‘comfort women’, Asian Correspondent, 23 July 2010.

Vinuya et al (in their capacity and as members of the ‘Malaya Lolas Organization’) v. The Honorable Executive Secretary’, Gender Justice Uncovered Awards, 2011.

back to top

Social media links

‘SC dumps demand of WWII Filipino comfort women’, The Wolf, 5 May 2010.

H. Rogue, ‘Filipina “Comfort Women” Deserve Political Support’, Harry Rogue’s Blog, 25 July 2010.

H. Roque, ‘The Ongoing Search for Justice for Victims of the Japanese War Crimes in Mapanique, Philippines’, Harry Rogue’s Blog, 3 September 2013.