According to a Tokyo court, Kim Jong-un should pay damages for a scheme that moved more than 90,000 people from Japan to North Korea from 1959 to 1984. Later, some condemned the repatriation campaign as ‘state kidnapping’. Five people who took part and escaped the North have each demanded 100 million yen ($880,000; £640,000). In future negotiations, they hope a ruling may assist in further negotiations even if Kim does not show up or pay up.
During Japan’s colonial rule over the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945, thousands of Koreans moved to Japan – often against their will. Many Koreans were resettled under the scheme, depicted as ‘paradise’ by Koreans selling themselves to the Japanese by selling the Fatherland as paradise. Some Japanese spouses also went with the Koreans. North Korea and Japan both supported the campaign. After being ravaged by World War Two and the Korean War, the North had a desperate need to rebuild. The Koreans were regarded as outsiders in Japan, and it was happy to help them relocate.
North Korea’s propaganda promised a life of free healthcare, education, and jobs in the homeland of North Korea, combined with Japan’s discrimination, which was a huge temptation. For many, reality consisted of being forced to work in a mine, farm or factory, and facing human rights violations. In their eyes, the court case has a symbolic quality – that is accepted by the five plaintiffs. The four ethnic Koreans and one Japanese spouse of an ethnic Korean who joined the program eventually defected to Japan.
‘We don’t expect North Korea to accept a decision nor pay damages,’ Kenji Fukuda, the plaintiff’s lawyer, has said. ‘But if they win, we hope the Japanese government could negotiate with North Korea’. North Korea and Japan do not have formal diplomatic relations. Mr. Kim is mentioned because he is the current leader. Plaintiffs in the case claim the North misled them by ‘false advertising’ for relocation to North Korea, where ‘the enjoyment of human rights was generally impossible’.
According to Eiko Kawasaki, 79, one of the plaintiffs, if they knew what awaited them none would have gone. Kawasaki fled the North in 2003, leaving behind her adult children. Lee Tae-Kyung, who sailed to the North in 1960 as an eight-year-old, is also seeking compensation. Mr. Hee told the New York Times: ‘We were told we were going to ‘paradise on earth. Instead, we were taken to hell, and denied our most basic human right: the freedom to leave’. Mr. Lee fled North Korea 46 years ago.