North Korea's leader Kim Jong-Un

A Japanese court summoned the North Korean leader to respond to complaints by ethnic Korean Japanese, who allege that they suffered human rights violations on their return to North Korea.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is not expected to appear at the court’s hearing scheduled for Thursday, but the decision to summon him is a rare occasion where immunity has not been granted to a foreign official, said Kenji Fukuda , a lawyer representing the five plaintiffs.

The five accuse Pyongyang of having “deceived the plaintiffs” about a resettlement program in North Korea and of having “forced them to live in conditions where enjoying human rights was impossible”.

The injured are demanding 100 million yen (€769,000) each as compensation for human rights violations.

About 93,000 ethnic Korean residents in Japan and family members returned to North Korea decades ago, after promises of a better life, as many were discriminated against in the Japanese country.

Eiko Kwasaki, 79, a Korean born and raised in Japan, was 17 when she left the country in 1960, a year after North Korea began a repatriation program to compensate workers killed in the Korean War, bringing back Koreans from abroad.

The program continued until 1984 and welcomed many people from South Korea. The Japanese government also joined, as it regarded Koreans as foreigners and helped organize transport to North Korea.

Kawasaki argued that she was confined to North Korea for 43 years, until she managed to defect in 2003, leaving her adult children behind.

“If we had been told the truth about North Korea, none of us would have gone,” he said at a press conference last month.

According to the complainant, Pyongyang promised free health care, education, jobs and other benefits, but nothing came of it. Most people were sent to manual work in mines, forests or farms, he said.

In August 2018, Kawasaki and four defectors from the program filed a lawsuit against the Government of North Korea in Tokyo District Court to demand damages.

Last month, and after three years of discussions, the court decided to summon Kim Jong-un for the first hearing, on October 14th.

The plaintiffs’ lawyer does not expect Kim Jong-un’s appearance or payment of the claimed damages, even if he is convicted by the court, but he hopes the case could set a precedent for future negotiations between Japan and North Korea. , in the search for Korean responsibility and in the normalization of diplomatic ties.

Although legally barred from holding the Japanese government accountable for aiding the program, Kawasaki hopes to help thousands of participants return from North Korea.

“I think the Japanese Government should also take responsibility,” he stressed.

Kawasaki’s father was among hundreds of thousands of Koreans brought to Japan, many of them forced to work in mines and factories before and during World War II.

Japan colonized the Korean peninsula between 1910 and 1945, a past that still limits relations with the two neighbors.

Currently, about half a million Japanese ethnic Koreans live in the country, but they continue to face discrimination at school, at work and in everyday life.

The plaintiffs, who started the process in 2018, are waiting for a date to be fixed for the trial.

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