A Japanese court has summoned the North Korean leader to deal with compensation claims from several Korean-born residents of Japan who say they suffered human rights violations in North Korea after joining a resettlement program there that described the country as a “paradise on earth,” according to a lawyer and the claimant said.
Kim Jong-un is not expected to appear in court for the Oct. 14 hearing, but the judge’s decision to summon him was a rare case in which a foreign leader failed to obtain sovereign immunity, Kenji Fukuda said , a lawyer representing the five plaintiffs. .
They are asking for 100 million yen ($ 900,000) each in compensation from North Korea for the human rights violations they say they suffered in connection with the resettlement program.
About 93,000 Korean ethnic residents of Japan and their family members traveled to North Korea decades ago because of promises of a better life. Many have been discriminated against in Japan as ethnic Koreans.
Eiko Kawasaki, 79, a Korean born and raised in Japan, was 17 when she left Japan in 1960, a year after North Korea launched the massive repatriation program to compensate workers killed in the war from Korea and bring the Koreans from overseas home. . The program continued to seek recruits, many of whom were from South Korea, until 1984.
The Japanese government also praised the program, viewing Koreans as foreigners, and helped organize their transport to North Korea.
Kawasaki said she was confined to North Korea for 43 years until she could defect in 2003, leaving behind her adult children. North Korea had promised free health care, education, jobs and other benefits, she said, but none of them were available and they were mostly assigned to manual labor in mines, forests or farms.
“If we had been told the truth about North Korea, none of us would have gone,” she said at a press conference on Tuesday.
Kawasaki and four other defectors from the program filed a lawsuit in August 2018 against the government of North Korea in the Tokyo District Court, demanding compensation.
The court, after three years of pre-trial discussions, agreed to summon Kim Jong-un to its first hearing on October 14, Fukuda, their lawyer, said.
Fukuda said he did not expect Kim to appear or pay compensation if the court so ordered, but hoped the case could set a precedent for future negotiations between Japan and North Korea. on the search for the responsibility of the North and the normalization of diplomatic relations.
Although the statute of limitations prohibits legally asking the Japanese government to be responsible for assisting the program, Kawasaki said he hoped he could help secure the return of thousands of participants “while waiting to be rescued out. of North Korea ”.
“I think the Japanese government should also take responsibility,” she said.
Kawasaki’s father was among the hundreds of thousands of Koreans brought to Japan, in great force, to work in mines and factories before and during World War II. Japan colonized the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945, a past that continues to strain relations between Japan and the Koreas.
Today, around half a million ethnic Koreans live in Japan and continue to face discrimination at school, at work and in their daily lives.
“It’s taken us so long to get here,” said Kawasaki. “Finally, it is the hour of justice.”