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Defectors sue Kim Jong Un in Japan over resettlement scheme

October 14, 2021

Five people who managed to escape from North Korea are seeking damages from Kim Jong Un in a Japanese court. The plaintiffs were all part of a repatriation program that they describe as "state kidnapping."

The court is hearing five ethnic Korean residents of Japan and a Japanese national demanding the North Korean government pay compensation over their human rights abuses in that country after joining a resettlement program there that promised a “paradise on Earth,” but without the presence of a defendant - the North’s leader.
The plaintiffs hope the case can set a precedent for negotiations between Japan and North KoreaImage: Eugene Hoshiko/AP Photo/picture alliance

Five North Korean defectors in Tokyo summoned Kim Jong Un to court on Thursday, demanding reparation for violations of human rights when they joined a program of repatriation to the isolated nation.

The case is a bid to hold Pyongyang responsible for a massive resettlement scheme that saw about 93,000 ethnic Korean residents of Japan move to North Korea between 1959 and 1984.

What are plaintiffs demanding?

Five of those who took part in the program and managed to escape are now seeking 100 million yen ($880,000 or €760,000) in damages.

They accuse the regime of "deceiving plaintiffs by false advertising to relocate to North Korea," where "the enjoyment of human rights was generally impossible."

"We don't expect North Korea to accept a decision nor pay the damages," Kenji Fukuda, the plaintiffs' lawyer, said last month.

"But we hope that the Japanese government would be able to negotiate with North Korea" if the court rules in the plaintiffs' favor, he added.

What was the resettlement program?

In 1959, North Korea began a program to bring overseas Koreans home in a bid to make up for the workers killed in the Korean War.

They were lured by fantastical propaganda promising "paradise on Earth."

North Korea promised free health care, education, jobs, and other benefits.

Plaintiffs and their supporters gather to walk toward the Tokyo District Court
Five people are demanding 100 million yen each in compensation from North KoreaImage: Eugene Hoshiko/AP Photo/picture alliance

But when the resettled people arrived, many with their Japanese spouses, they were assigned manual work at mines, forests or farms, plaintiff Eiko Kawasaki, 79, said last month.

Kawasaki is a Korean who was born and raised in Japan.

Koreans in Japan

During the Japanese colonial rule of the Korean peninsula, millions of Koreans moved to Japan, many of them forcibly, to work in mines and factories.

After Japan surrendered at the end of World War II, hundreds of thousands of Koreans remained in the country.

The Japanese government, which viewed Koreans as outsiders, not only welcomed Pyongyang's repatriation scheme, but also helped arrange for participants to travel to North Korea.

Meanwhile, Koreans in Japan were stripped of their Japanese nationality and became stateless. Those who acceded to the scheme believed in propaganda films portraying an idyllic life in North Korea.

Today, about half a million ethnic Koreans live in Japan — but many face discrimination in their daily lives.

adi/rc (AFP, AP)