A group of Japanese residents who say they suffered decades of human rights abuses in North Korea after being lured by false promises of a “paradise on earth” asked a Japanese appeals court on Friday to order that North Korea should compensate them.
The five plaintiffs, including ethnic Koreans and Japanese, moved to North Korea from 1959-1984 under a program in which the North promised free health care, education, jobs and other benefits. But he said none was available and he was mostly assigned physical work in mines, forests or fields.
The plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in 2018 with the Tokyo District Court seeking $900,000 each in compensation for “unlawful solicitation and detention”. The court acknowledged that the plaintiffs fled to North Korea because of false information provided by Chongryon, a pro-North Korean organization in North Korea and Japan. But it ruled in March 2022 that the statute of limitations had expired and that Japanese courts did not have jurisdiction because the plaintiff’s suffering occurred outside Japan.
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In their appeal to the Tokyo High Court on Friday, lawyers for the plaintiffs argued that Japan had jurisdiction because their ordeal began when they boarded the ships in a Japanese port, lawyer Kenji Fukuda said. Only two of the original plaintiffs participated because the others are ill or have died. A decision is expected in May.
One plaintiff, Eiko Kawasaki, now 80, was 17 when she took a ship to North Korea in 1960 and was trapped there until she was able to escape back to Japan in 2003, leaving behind her grown children .
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About half a million ethnic Koreans currently live in Japan and face discrimination at school, at work, and in their daily lives. Many are descendants of Koreans who 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 Korea.
In 1959, North Korea began a resettlement program to bring overseas Koreans to the North for workers killed during the Korean War. The Japanese government, viewing ethnic Koreans as outsiders, welcomed the program and helped arrange for people to travel to North Korea. About 93,000 ethnic Korean residents of Japan and their family members moved to the North.
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About 150 of them have returned to Japan, according to a group supporting North Korean defectors.
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