Nearly 4000 Indonesians filed an unprecedented lawsuit against Japan in a Tokyo court on 5 September 2002, seeking US$165M in compensation for losses caused by a controversial dam project financed by Japanese aid.

A total of 3861 villagers from Sumatra island filed a suit with the Tokyo District Court against the Japanese government, official aid agencies and firms engaged in building the Kotopanjang dam, which was completed in 1997.

The suit names as respondents Tokyo Electric Power Services, the Japan International Co-operation Agency and the Japan Bank for International Co-operation, as well as the Japanese government.

The plaintiffs claim as many as 23,000 people were forcibly resettled or lost part of their property due to the US$260M hydro power project, which was financed with official development assistance (ODA), as Japan’s aid is formally known.

The case is the first ever brought by residents against the Japanese government and aid organisations over their responsibility for the impact of ODA, lawyers for the plaintiffs said.