Japanese court hears five people who say there was a promised ‘heaven on earth’ in North Korea but suffered instead and now want the country to compensate them
The hearing became possible after the Tokyo District Court agreed in August to summon Kim Jong Un to speak, according to Kenji Fukuda, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs. They don’t expect Kim to appear or compensate them if the court orders it, but Fukuda hopes the case can set a precedent for negotiations between Japan and North Korea over the search for the responsibility of the North and the normalization of diplomatic relations.
Hundreds of thousands of Koreans came to Japan, in great force, to work in mines and factories during Japanese colonization of the Korean Peninsula – a past that still puts strain on relations between Japan and the Koreas.
In 1959, North Korea launched a massive resettlement program to bring overseas Koreans home and to compensate workers killed in the Korean War. The program continued to seek recruits, many of whom were from South Korea, until 1984.
North Korea had promised free health care, education, jobs and other benefits, but none were available, and returnees were mostly assigned manual labor in mines, forests or settlements. firm, one of the plaintiffs, Eiko Kawasaki, 79, a Korean who was born and raised in Japan, said last month.
The Japanese government, viewing Koreans as foreigners, also praised the resettlement program and helped organize the participants’ trip to North Korea. About 93,000 Korean ethnic residents of Japan and their family members traveled to North Korea.
Today, around half a million ethnic Koreans live in Japan and still face discrimination at school, at work and in their daily lives.
The lawsuit was brought in 2018 by five participants who ultimately defected to Japan – four ethnic Koreans and a Japanese woman who joined the program with her Korean husband and daughter.
“None of us would have left” if we had known the truth about North Korea, Kawasaki said. She was confined in North Korea for 43 years until her defection in 2003, leaving behind her adult children.
The plaintiffs seek 100 million yen ($ 900,000) each in compensation from North Korea.