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Japan PM visit to war shrine on WWII anniversary revives legal concerns

[JURIST] Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi [official profile] on Tuesday visited the Yasukuni war shrine [shrine website] on the anniversary of the day when Emperor Hirohito [PBS profile] surrendered World War II in 1945. The shrine honors all Japanese war dead, including war criminals, and Koizumi's visits to the shrine on previous occasions have not only angered neighboring China and South Korea but have also been the subject of multiple lawsuits seeking to end the visits. In a statement [text] Tuesday, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused Koizumi of "challenging international justice and trampling human conscience" by "insisting on paying homage to the Yasukuni Shrine where these war criminals are remembered in disregard of the concern and opposition from the international community." Koizumi has defended his visits to the shrine [JURIST report], saying that other nations should not make diplomatic issues of spiritual matters.

Plaintiffs in several lawsuits have argued that Koizumi's visits to the war shrine violate the principle of separation of church and state contained in Japan's constitution [text], but Japanese courts have largely ruled in the prime minister's favor. Most recently, the Tokyo High Court rejected a lawsuit [JURIST report] in June seeking an order to compel Koizumi to stop visiting the shrine, ruling that the visits did not violate any of the plaintiffs' rights. That lawsuit was filed by 137 Japanese and South Korean plaintiffs and a South Korean advocacy group who also sought damages for each plaintiff that incurred mental anguish. Earlier in the month, the Japanese Supreme Court ruled in a similar fashion [JURIST report], rejecting a lawsuit by 338 plaintiff survivors of South Korean, Japanese, and Chinese soldiers killed during wars involving Japan, without ruling on the constitutionality of the visits. The plaintiffs in that case argued that Koizumi visited the shrine in 2001 in an official capacity, impermissibly violating Japan's constitutional barriers between religion and state. Last September, Japan's Osaka High Court ruled [JURIST report] that the Prime Minister's visits violate constitutional provisions for the separation of church and state, but an October decision from a different court upheld [JURIST report] a lower court ruling [JURIST report] to dismiss a lawsuit against Koizumi. AFP has more.

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