A Tokyo court has rejected a lawsuit filed by five people seeking compensation from North Korea for what they said was decades of abuse after they were lured there by Pyongyang’s false promise of living in the “paradise on Earth”.
The five plaintiffs, including ethnic Koreans and Japanese who moved to North Korea under a 1959-1984 repatriation program and later fled, filed the lawsuit in 2018 seeking 100m yen (about £625,000 today) each in compensation over what they said was illegal “solicitation and detention”.
In Wednesday’s ruling, the Tokyo district court focused on whether it had jurisdiction over the case while staying away from clearly stating whether the repatriation programme, which Japan’s government helped with, was illegal.
Rejecting the case, the court said the plaintiffs went to North Korea between 1960 and 1972, and the 20-year statute of limitations had passed by the time they filed the case.
Judge Akihiro Igarashi said a Japanese court had no jurisdiction over their “detention” in North Korea.
One plaintiff, Eiko Kawasaki, 79, an ethnic Korean who was born and raised in Japan and went to the north in 1960, said: “I feel like crying. There should be no statute of limitations for human rights violations.”
Kenji Fukuda, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said they would appeal because “the court didn’t respond to the case head on”.
Fukuda said the court accepted most of the evidence the plaintiffs had submitted, including about the deceptive campaign held in Japan for the repatriation and living conditions in the north, setting a precedent for a legal case in Japan against North Korea over human rights violations.
Fukuda urged the Japanese government to support the victims and negotiate with North Korea in the future on seeking to hold Pyongyang to account.
Hundreds of thousands of Koreans came to Japan, many forcibly, to work in mines and factories during Japan’s colonization of the Korean peninsula – a past that still strains relations between Japan and the Koreas. Today, about half a million ethnic Koreans live in Japan and still face discrimination in school, work and their daily lives.
In 1959 North Korea began a massive resettlement program to bring overseas Koreans home to make up for workers killed in the Korean war. The program continued to seek recruits, many of them originally from South Korea, until 1984.
The Japanese government, viewing Koreans as outsiders, welcomed the resettlement program and helped to arrange for people to travel to North Korea. About 93,000 ethnic Korean residents of Japan and their family members responded and moved to North Korea.
The plaintiffs say they believe many of them have died, but their descendants still in North Korea should be rescued. About 150 of them have made it back to Japan, according to a group supporting defectors from the north.
North Korea had promised free healthcare, education, jobs and other benefits, but the returnees were mostly assigned manual work in mines, forests or on farms, the plaintiffs said.
Kawasaki, born and raised in Kyoto, was 17 when she took a ship to the north in 1960, and she was confined there until defecting in 2003, leaving behind her grown children.
The plaintiffs are concerned about their families still in North Korea. They say they lost contact with them more than two years ago, apparently owing to the pandemic.
“I just hope Japanese people still alive in the north will return home,” said another plaintiff, Hiroko Saito, 80. She went to North Korea with her Korean husband and a baby girl in 1961, and fled in 2001.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism