[Press Release][Press Release] Landmark Case: South Korean Court Sees First-Ever Lawsuit Filed Against North Korean Government for “Paradise on Earth” Atrocities

13 Mar 2024
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Landmark Case: South Korean Court Sees First-Ever Lawsuit Filed Against North Korean Government for “Paradise on Earth” Atrocities

  • Between 1959 and 1984, the North Korean government, with assistance from the Japanese government and Red Cross societies, repatriated approximately 93,340 ethnic Koreans residing in Japan, selling a false vision of North Korea as a “Paradise on Earth.” 
  • The Center for Human Rights Legal Support, established by the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights (NKDB) in 2021, is initiating the first-ever South Korean lawsuit against the North Korean government for the “Paradise on Earth” atrocities.

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA — On March 15th at 10:30 AM (KST), the NKDB Center for Human Rights Legal Support is scheduled to file the first civil lawsuit to take place in a South Korean court against the North Korean government for the “Paradise on Earth” campaign, 1959-1984. On behalf of five ethnic Koreans repatriated from Japan to North Korea and now based in South Korea, this legal action aims to secure overdue compensation for atrocities suffered as part of the North Korean government’s deceitful repatriation scheme.

The North Korean government, through the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (otherwise known as Chongryon), repatriated approximately 93,340 ethnic Korean residents in Japan (Zainichi Koreans) from 1959 to 1984 by falsely promoting North Korea as a “Paradise on Earth,” where they would find abundant healthcare, education, and job opportunities. In stark contrast to the government’s promise, most of the repatriated, including the plaintiffs, became subject to residential and occupational placements of low socioeconomic status while being denied the very right to return to Japan. They lived in rural, often poor, neighborhoods and worked in factories, mines, or farms. Moreover, they became targets of heightened state surveillance; even their communication with remaining relatives and acquaintances in Japan were regularly censored. As a result of such mobility and communication restrictions, it had been difficult to ascertain the extent of the implicated human rights abuses until some victims managed to escape from North Korea. 

Approximately 500 of the “Paradise on Earth” campaign victims have escaped to South Korea and Japan thus far. Some of these escapees are reluctant to disclose their experiences living in North Korea due to concerns about the safety of their relatives and acquaintances remaining behind. Nonetheless, five escapees in South Korea, while representing a small fraction of the victims, have mustered the courage to take legal action against the North Korean government for the injustices of its repatriation scheme, seeking damage compensation equivalent to 100 million won per person.

Lee Tae-kyung, one of the plaintiffs and the representative of the victim association in South Korea, testified about his experience of the “Paradise on Earth” campaign: “While I had suspected some embellishment and exaggeration involved in the campaign, I was shocked by the alarming difference between the promised ‘paradise’ and the reality I faced upon arrival in North Korea. Even as an eight-year-old, I sensed that something had gone wrong. Most of us Zainichi Koreans who were repatriated to North Korea hailed from the southern half of the Korean peninsula. At the time, South Korea was in a tense situation due to the April Revolution, but we thought that we could return there upon unification someday. Thus, we considered our departure to North Korea as ‘returning home.’”

He further added, “My mother had persuaded our entire family to migrate to North Korea, and she regretted it until her last breath. Since then, we have stepped foot in South Korea on behalf of our predecessors who never got to return to their homeland. Yet, I fear that if we were to die on this land, the atrocities we experienced in North Korea would be buried with us. That is why I stand here now.”

The North Korean government orchestrated the repatriation campaign, but the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon), the Japanese government, and Red Cross societies are not exempt from culpability. The South Korean government, which fell short of its duty to protect the victims at the time, also bears some responsibility. Bringing this lawsuit to a South Korean court is pivotal to holding the North Korean government accountable as the chief perpetrator, and to reminding the South Korean government of its duty to protect its nationals, including Zainichi Koreans. 

Alongside the five plaintiffs, seven members of the NKDB Center for Human Rights Legal Support are leading efforts to wield the South Korean judicial system for legal redress for the North Korean government’s repatriation campaign. The center sees this lawsuit as the springboard for many other endeavors to bring North Korean human rights violations under the review of domestic and international judicial systems. 

Since October 2021, the NKDB Center for Human Rights Legal Support has been operated by legal experts, legal practitioners, and scholars on North Korean human rights in order to provide legal relief and rights restoration to victims of human rights violations committed within or by the North Korean state. The center’s activities are guided by the NKDB North Korean Human Rights Archives, which consists of more than 130,000 records of incidents, victims, perpetrators, and witnesses of North Korean human rights violations.


For inquiries: (Email) info@nkdb.org or (Phone) +82-70-4495-6663