Dutch WWII veteran sues for Japanese 'slave labour'

28th November 2013, Comments 0 comments

A nonagenarian WWII veteran on Thursday launched a last-ditch effort to claim compensation from the Dutch state for physical injuries he suffered while forced to do slave-labour in Japanese prisoner-of-war camps 70 years ago.

Jan Bras has been involved in a five-year battle to get Dutch judges to rule that a severe back problem was the result of forced labour as a POW after Dutch forces surrendered to Japan on the Indonesian island of Java in March 1942.

Bras spent the rest of the war building the infamous Burma railway line under appalling conditions, before being shipped to Japan where he survived forced labour in an underground coal mine.

He was freed after Japan surrendered in 1945.

"My father is not claiming for lost earnings. He is claiming for physical suffering and what he really wants is recognition for that," said his daughter Gina Jennings, a British-based lawyer who represented him in court.

"From the time he was 28 he has suffered from back-ache as a result of spending three-and-a-half years as a slave to the Japanese," Jennings told a judge at the Dutch Administrative High Court, based in the central city of Utrecht.

Although Bras receives a small amount of money from the Dutch state for "psychological damage" he suffered as a POW, his request for compensation for physical damages has so far been turned down.

Bras first filed a claim in early 2009 under a set of unique Dutch laws that allows the Dutch state to pay compensation to those affected by war, based on medical and psychological grounds.

Previously judges have ruled that Bras indeed suffered from a degenerative spine, but that his condition was a result of old age and not because of forced labour he did as a 19-year-old POW.

Bras, a doctor himself, was examined by several medical specialists after lodging his claim and they then concluded his condition was due to old age, court papers said.

"There are no new medical facts and therefore no reason to change our viewpoint, based on the conclusions by the medical doctors," who examined Bras, said Anette Vroom-van Berckel, representing the Sociale Verzekeringsbank (SVB), the organisation responsible for paying out state pensions and grants.

More than 60,000 Allied prisoners of war worked as slave labourers on the Burma railway line, also called the "Death Railway" in 1942-43.

Some 13,000 POWs and 100,000 indigenous workers died -- said to be one man for every sleeper laid -- in the line's construction between Rangoon in Burma (today Yangon in Myanmar) to Bangkok in Thailand.

The suffering of these prisoners were later captured in the 1950s classic movie "Bridge on the River Kwai."

The court will hand down a ruling on Bras' claim on January 30 next year.

© 2013 AFP

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