Japan Demands $900k Per Person From North Korea for Human Rights Abuses

A Japanese court is demanding 100 million yen, the equivalent to $900,000, from North Korea for each ethnic Korean resident of Japan who has said they experienced human rights abuses in the Orwellian nation.

About 93,000 ethnic Korean residents of Japan and their family members traveled to North Korea decades ago, lured by promises of a life free of the discrimination they suffered in Japan. The resettlement program promised a "paradise on Earth," an attorney and plaintiff said Tuesday.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is unlikely to appear for the October 14 hearing, but the presiding judge summoned him anyway, a rare occurrence. Foreign leaders are typically granted sovereign immunity, according to Kenji Fukuda, who is representing five of the plaintiffs in the case.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

North Korea Ceremony
A Japanese judge summoned North Korea's Kim Jong Un in a case involving a resettlement program for Korean residents of Japan, the participants of which say they suffered human rights abuses. Students take part in a "dance party" outside the Grand Theatre as part of events marking the occasion of the 68th anniversary of the end of the Korean War, which North Korea calls the "Day of Victory in the Great Fatherland Liberation War," in Pyongyang on July 27. KIM Won Jin / AFP/Getty Images

Eiko Kawasaki, 79, a Korean who was born and raised in Japan, was 17 when she left in 1960, a year after North Korea began the massive repatriation program to make up for workers killed in the Korean War and bring overseas Koreans back home. The program continued to seek recruits, many of them originally from South Korea, until 1984.

The Japanese government also welcomed the program, viewing Koreans as outsiders, and helped arrange their transport to North Korea.

Kawasaki said she was confined to North Korea for 43 years until she was able to defect in 2003, leaving behind her grown children.

North Korea had promised free healthcare, education, jobs and other benefits, she said, but none of them were available and they were mostly assigned manual work at mines, forests or farms.

"If we were informed of the truth about North Korea, none of us would have gone," she said at a news conference on Tuesday.

Kawasaki and the four other defectors from the program filed a lawsuit in August 2018 against North Korea's government in Tokyo District Court demanding compensation.

The court, after three years of pretrial discussions, agreed to summon Kim Jong Un to its first hearing on October 14, said Fukuda, their lawyer.

Fukuda said he is not expecting Kim to appear, or provide compensation if it is ordered by the court, but hopes the case can set a precedent for future negotiations between Japan and North Korea on seeking the North's responsibility and normalizing diplomatic ties.

Although barred by the statute of limitations from legally seeking Japanese government responsibility for aiding the program, Kawasaki hopes Japan can help obtain the return of thousands of participants "still waiting to be rescued out of North Korea."

"I do think the Japanese government should also take responsibility," she said.

Kawasaki's father was among hundreds of thousands of Koreans brought to Japan, many forcibly, to work in mines and factories before and during World War II. Japan colonized the Korean Peninsula in 1910-1945—a past that still strains relations between Japan and the Koreas.

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

"It has taken so long for us to come this far," Kawasaki said. "Finally, it's time for justice."