TOKYO (AP) — A group of Japanese residents who say they suffered decades of human rights abuses in North Korea after being lured there by false promises of a “Paradise on Earth” on Friday asked a Japanese appeals court to decide that the North must pay them compensation.
The five plaintiffs, including ethnic Koreans and Japanese, moved to North Korea under a 1959-1984 program in which the North promised free health care, education, jobs and other benefits. But they said none were available and they were usually assigned handicrafts in mines, forests or farms.
The plaintiffs filed suit in Tokyo District Court in 2018, seeking 100 million yen ($900,000) each in compensation for “illegal solicitation and detention.” The court acknowledged that the plaintiffs moved to North Korea because of false information provided by the North and a pro-North Korean organization in Japan, Chongryon, but ruled in March 2022 that the statute of limitations had expired and that Japanese courts had no jurisdiction because the plaintiffs’ suffering took place outside of Japan.
In their appeal to the Tokyo Supreme Court on Friday, the plaintiffs’ lawyers argued that Japan has jurisdiction because their ordeal began when they boarded ships at a Japanese port, attorney Kenji Fukuda said. Only two of the original plaintiffs participated because others are sick or have died. A ruling is expected in May.
One prosecutor, 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 flee back to Japan in 2003, leaving her adult children behind.
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 under duress, to work in mines and factories during the Japanese colonization of the Korean peninsula – a past that continues to strain relations between Japan and the Koreas.
In 1959, North Korea began a resettlement program to bring overseas Koreans to the North to make up for workers killed in the Korean War. The Japanese government, which considers ethnic Koreans outsiders, welcomed the program and helped arrange for people to travel to North Korea. About 93,000 ethnic Korean residents of Japan and their relatives moved north.
About 150 of them have returned to Japan, according to a group that supports defectors from North Korea.