The Tokyo High Court ordered on Monday a fresh examination of the lawsuit concerning the “Paradise on Earth” repatriation program, which saw the migration of ethnic Koreans and Japanese to North Korea in the second half of the twentieth century.
The case revolves around individuals who managed to come back to Japan from North Korea, asserting they experienced severe adversities under the “Paradise on Earth” repatriation program. Launched in the late 1950s, the repatriation campaign was an effort led by North Korea to entice Korean residents in Japan and their Japanese partners to relocate to North Korea. In a bid to persuade them, the North Korean government painted a picture of an idyllic existence, pledging lucrative job opportunities, complimentary education and an overall better standard of living than what was available in Japan.
The individuals who returned from North Korea, however, claimed that the reality was far from this promised paradise. Many faced economic struggles and intrusive state oversight upon their return. Active between 1959 to 1984, the repatriation drive saw nearly 93,000 individuals make the move to North Korea. Four of those who later managed to flee back to Japan have since sought compensation from North Korea, attributing their lost years to the North Korean government and jointly demanding reparations to the tune of 400 million YEN (approximately $3.6 million).
In the first trial at the Tokyo District Court in 2018, the plaintiffs’ claim was dismissed. The court found that the “right to seek compensation had expired.” However, in a subsequent ruling by the Tokyo High Court, the presiding judge recognized that the plaintiffs had been misled to travel to North Korea under false pretenses and were later not permitted to leave, which infringed upon their freedom to choose their place of residence. The presiding judge further noted that the plaintiffs endured harsh conditions for an extended period, essentially robbing them of years of their lives. Considering these factors, the Tokyo High Court determined that the initial trial failed to address the illicit acts within North Korea and thus ordered a retrial at the Tokyo District Court. It’s believed to be the first time the North Korean government has been a defendant in a court case.