In Tokyo, North Korean defectors demand accountability from Kim Jong Un

North Korean defectors symbolically put leader Kim Jong Un in the dock Thursday in Tokyo to hold him to account over a former repatriation program from Japan, which they called “state kidnapping“.

This unusual court case aims to hold the Pyongyang government responsible for a controversial program that saw more than 90,000 people leave Japan for North Korea between 1959 and 1984.

This program mainly targeted Koreans living in the Japanese archipelago, but also their Japanese spouses, attracted by propaganda promising “Paradise on Earth“in Communist North Korea.

Five participants in the repatriation program who then escaped from the North are each claiming 100 million yen (762,000 euros) in damages and presented their arguments Thursday before a court in Tokyo.

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They accuse Pyongyang of having “deceived the plaintiffs with false advertising into being relocated to North Korea“and have them”forced to live in conditions where the enjoyment of human rights was generally impossible“.

As there are no diplomatic relations between Japan and North Korea, Kim Jong Un is symbolically judged as head of government in Pyongyang.

We don’t expect North Korea to accept a ruling or pay damages“Kenji Fukuda, lawyer for the plaintiffs, said at a press briefing last month.”But we hope the Japanese government will be able to negotiate with North Korea“if the court rules in favor of the plaintiffs.

We hope the Japanese government will be able to negotiate with North Korea


A total of 93,340 people took part in the repatriation program funded by Pyongyang and carried out by Red Cross associations in Japan and North Korea. The Japanese government also supported this plan, denounced by its detractors as a way for Tokyo to reduce the number of Koreans living in Japan.

Kenji Fukuda said the plaintiffs viewed the North Korean government as “the most responsible entity in the organization“.

Part of the defectors’ complaint concerns the separation from their families, still stranded in North Korea. “I don’t know what happened to my family. Maybe the coronavirus hit them, maybe some of them starved to death“Eiko Kawasaki, one of the complainants, said in September.

Complainants have a desire to save those who still live and suffer in North Korea“Hiroaki Saeki, head of a group supporting defectors who participated in the program, told AFP on Thursday.

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During the colonization of the Korean peninsula by Tokyo between 1910 and 1945, millions of Koreans left for Japan, either voluntarily or against their will. When Japan surrendered at the end of World War II, hundreds of thousands of ethnic Koreans remained, reluctant to return to their devastated country.

They were stripped of their Japanese nationality and became stateless. Many of them believed in the propaganda films depicting an idyllic life in North Korea, with free health and education systems, guaranteed jobs and housing. But the real situation was very different, dominated by poverty and famine.

The plaintiffs began their proceedings in 2018. A date must be set Thursday for the judgment.

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