Maria Luz Incident (マリア・ルス号事件)

The Maria Luz Incident is an incident in which the Japanese government freed the Qing laborers the Peruvian ship "Maria Luz" harbored in Yokohama Port in 1872, on the ground that they were treated as slaves. It was the first case in which Japan disputed in the International Court.

The summary of the incident

On June 5, 1872, the Peruvian ship "Maria Luz (Maria Rusu)" (recorded as Maria Ruzu in Katakana in some books) heading to Peru from Macau, China, entered the Yokohama Port to repair damages from a storm. A few days later, 231 Qing laborers jumped off the ship into the sea to escape the harsh treatment, and were rescued by a British warship. The United Kingdom judged "Maria Luz" to be a 'slave ship'; consequently, the British Envoy to Japan requested the Japanese government to rescue the Qing people.

So, the then Chief of Foreign Ministry (Minister of Foreign Affairs), Taneomi SOEJIMA ordered the prefectural ordinance (deputy governor) of Kanagawa, Taku OE, to rescue the Qing people. However, no bilateral treaty was signed between Japan and Peru in those days, and some government officials argued that causing a dispute with Peru could result in a disadvantage for Japan in international relations; nonetheless, Soejima resolved to take legal steps to rescue the Qing people in the name of humanitarianism and Japan's sovereignty.

The port of Yokohama placed "Maria Luz" under an embargo, and on July 19th, all Qing laborers were disembarked. The captain of "Maria Luz" was indicted, and in the special court established in Kanagawa Prefectural Government, presided by Taku OE, "Maria Luz "was given a sailing permit in exchange for the release of the Qing laborers because of the court decision made on July 27. However, the captain was dissatisfied with the decision, taking legal action to execute the immigration contract, and appealed to return the Qing laborers to "Maria Luz". In the second trial, the appeal was rejected on the grounds that the presented immigration contract itself was a slave contract, which was against human rights, and therefore it was invalid. In response, the captain's attorney, (an Englishman) countered, 'If this slave contract is not acknowledged, why is a more cruel form of slavery practiced in Japan under severe circumstances? It's a contract on yujo (prostitute).' and submitted a copy of a prostitute's contract and medical records from Yokoyama hospital. Human trafficking' for prostitute was practiced openly in Japan, and it was in no position to condemn slavery; after this criticism, Japan was forced to abolish prostitution, and in October of the same year, an emancipation edict was issued, freeing all prostitutes. After the trial, the Qing people were released, and returned to their homeland on September 13th. However, this was not the end of the problem.

In February of next year, the Peruvian Government sent the navy minister to Japan and demanded an apology and compensation in terms of Maria Luz-related issues from the Japanese government. To resolve this dispute between the two countries, an arbitration agreement was signed and an International Court of Arbitration (measures taken because of nonexistence of the Permanent Court of International Justice) was held by a third party, the Russian Empire. In June of 1875, the International Court held by Alexander ll, the Russian Czar, ruled that 'the measures taken by Japan were appropriate conforming to all international laws and treaties,' and he dismissed the appeal by Peru.