TOKYO (AP) – A Japanese court on Thursday heard from five people who said they were promised “paradise on earth” in North Korea but suffered human rights violations instead and now want the country and its leader Kim Jong Un to compensate them .
The hearing became possible after the Tokyo District Court in August agreed to summon Kim Jong Un to speak, according to Kenji Fukuda, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs. They do not expect Kim to show up or compensate them if the court orders, but Fukuda hopes that the case can set a precedent for negotiations between Japan and North Korea to seek Nordic responsibility and normalize diplomatic ties.
Hundreds of thousands of Koreans came to Japan, many by force, to work in mines and factories during Japan’s colonization of the Korean Peninsula – a past that still strains relations between Japan and Korea.
In 1959, North Korea launched a massive resettlement program to repatriate foreign Koreans and compensate for workers killed in the Korean War. The program continued to seek recruits, many of them originally from South Korea, until 1984.
North Korea had promised free medical care, education, jobs and other benefits, but none were available and the returnees were mostly assigned manual labor at mines, forests or farms, one of the plaintiffs, Eiko Kawasaki, 79, a Korean born and raised in Japan, said last month.
The Japanese government, which regarded the Koreans as outsiders, also welcomed the resettlement program and helped arrange for participants to travel to North Korea. About 93,000 ethnic Koreans in Japan and their family members went to North Korea.
Today, about half a million ethnic Koreans live in Japan and are still discriminated against in school, work, and their daily lives.
The trial was brought in 2018 by five participants who finally jumped back to Japan – four ethnic Koreans and a Japanese woman who joined the program with her Korean husband and their daughter.
“None of us would have gone” if we had known the truth about North Korea, Kawasaki said. She was confined to North Korea for 43 years until she jumped in 2003, leaving behind her adult children.
Plaintiffs are seeking 100 million yen ($ 900,000) each in compensation from North Korea.