5 People Demanding $900K Each from Kim Jong Un, North Korea Over Human Rights Abuses

Five people are demanding North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pay each of them $900,000 for their suffering while they lived in a resettlement program in the nation.

In an effort to bring Koreans back from Japan after the Korean War, North Korea promised free health care, education, jobs and welfare to those who participated in the relocation program. The program recruited Japanese residents, many of them originally from South Korea.

Yet none of the program promises were made available to the plaintiffs, the lawsuit says. Instead, they were assigned to manual work in mines, forests, or farms said Eiko Kawasaki.

"In North Korea, I lived in shock, sorrow and fear for 43 years," the 79-year-old Kawasaki told reporters after the hearing Tuesday.

The five who were promised "paradise on Earth" in North Korea said that they were deceived by the program and kidnapped by the country.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Japanese want compensation for human rights abuse
Japanese residents demand compensation over human rights abuse in North Korea. Plaintiffs and their supporters arrive at the Tokyo District Court Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021, in Tokyo. Eugene Hoshiko/AP Photo

The hearing became possible after the Tokyo District Court in August agreed to summon Kim to speak, according to Kenji Fukuda, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs. They are not expecting Kim to appear or to compensate them if the court orders it. But Fukuda hopes the case can set a precedent for the Japanese government to negotiate with North Korea in the future on seeking the North's responsibility and normalizing diplomatic ties.

"I believe it was a miracle that I could return to Japan alive," Kawasaki said, adding that she was glad to have her ordeal heard by the court.

"But this is not the goal. This is the beginning of our fight against North Korea," Kawasaki said. "We'll keep fighting until the day everyone who went to North Korea on the repatriation ship can return to Japan and get to see their families."

Fukuda said the goal at Thursday's hearing was for all five plaintiffs to show how North Korea illegally and systematically lured them by deception and to establish legal bases before asking the Japanese government to diplomatically resolve the problem.

The court case was brought in 2018 by five participants who ultimately defected back to Japan — four ethnic Koreans and a Japanese woman who joined the program with her Korean husband and their daughter.

The plaintiffs are now concerned about their families still stuck in the North. Kawasaki says she had lost contact with them since November 2019, apparently due to the pandemic. She can't send them money and all care packages she had sent came back.

"I don't even know if they are alive," she said.

The ruling is expected in March.

Kanae Doi, Japan director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement that the plaintiffs' testimonies "made it clear that North Korea was hell not paradise against the propaganda victims." She urged North Korea to immediately allow others to return to Japan and that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida should demand Kim Jong Un do so.

The Japanese government, viewing Koreans as outsiders, also welcomed the resettlement program and helped arrange for participants to travel to North Korea. About 93,000 ethnic Korean residents of Japan and their family members went to North Korea.

Today, about half a million ethnic Koreans live in Japan and still face discrimination in school, work and daily lives.