Tokyo’s High Court Finds North Korea Legally Liable for Duping Ethnic Koreans and Japanese During Paradise on Earth Campaign

People waving North Korean flags as they prepare to board repatriation ships bound for North Korea at the Port of Niigata in Japan in 1959. Image via trailer for Young Kim’s film “A Strange Paradise.”

SEOUL – Kawasaki Eiko (81), a second-generation Zainichi Korean, and three other plaintiffs are suing the North Korean government in Japan for deceptively luring them to a life of misery in North Korea in the past. 

From 1959-1984, the North Korean government carried out a scheme to lure ethnic Koreans in Japan to resettle in North Korea with promises of free health care, a good education, good jobs, and other benefits of North Korea’s purported “paradise.”

Yet according to the plaintiffs and others who claim they were duped, those were false promises, and to their horror, they were forced to live and work in miserable conditions without being allowed to leave the country. 

After decades of suffering, Eiko Kawasaki managed to escape from North Korea and eventually returned to Japan in 2003.

In  2018, Kawasaki and four other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit with the Tokyo District Court seeking 100 million yen (about $700,000) each in compensation for “illegal solicitation and detainment.” 

In its ruling in March 2022, the Tokyo District Court acknowledged that the plaintiffs had been lured to North Korea due to false information from the North Korean regime and Chongryon, a pro-North Korean organization in Japan with ties to the North Korean government.

However, the court ruled that the statute of limitations had expired and that Japanese courts do not have jurisdiction since the plaintiffs suffered outside of Japan.

Four of the plaintiffs appealed the decision to the Tokyo High Court, arguing that Japanese courts have jurisdiction in this case because North Korea’s deceptions occurred while they were living in Japan and ultimately tricked them into leaving.

In the Tokyo High Court’s ruling on November 30, 2023, presiding Judge Daniguchi Sono sided with the plaintiffs, stating, “North Korea’s actions should be viewed as a continuous illegal act, and the jurisdiction over the infringements caused by this entire illegal act lies with the Japanese court.” 

As a result, the case was sent back to the Tokyo District Court. Kawasaki Eiko’s legal team maintains that even in the initial trial, the damages suffered by the plaintiffs were acknowledged, and as North Korea refuses to participate in the trial, the issue of jurisdiction – the central point of contention – has been resolved. 

Kawasaki Eiko, the representative of the group ‘Modu Moija,’  stated, “If we win, we will not only seize North Korean assets within Japan but also file a lawsuit against Chongryon (the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan).”

Expressing hope for a favorable outcome, Kawasaki remarked, “Confronting North Korea head-on feels refreshing.” 

Approximately 93,000 ethnic Korean residents in Japan and their relatives joined North Korea’s resettlement program from 1959-1984, which also emphasized that resettled Koreans could live among other Koreans without enduring the discrimination they often faced in Japan.

Testimonies from defectors reveal that the resettled Zainichi Koreans in North Korea actually faced oppression and discrimination, and were often called derogatory terms like “jjaekki” or “jaepo” because they had lived in Japan. 

Resettled Zainichi Koreans are viewed so suspiciously in North Korea that they are essentially treated as spies, struggling to survive, and unable to escape their circumstances.

According to North Korean defector Kim Jeil, whom this writer interviewed, “Unless they have relatives in high positions within the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon), Zainichi Koreans must live in local areas under constant surveillance.”

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