Defectors in Japan sue North Korea for millions over rights abuses

Five North Korean defectors in Japan filed a suit in Tokyo demanding Pyongyang pay ¥500 million [4.5 Million US Dollars] in damages over its alleged human rights abuses.

The suit was filed with Tokyo District Court and was the first legal action against the North Korean government by defectors, according to the plaintiffs’ lawyers.

The five claimed that North Korea asked Koreans living in Japan to return between 1959 and 1984 when the country advertised repeatedly through the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon) that it was a “heaven on earth” where things such as clothing, food and shelter were secure.

The plaintiffs said they returned to North Korea between 1960 and 1972, but they were forced to live under harsh conditions including not being able to get food. They claim that North Korea committed an act of state-sponsored kidnapping by deceiving victims. They also said that their right to see their families in North Korea had been violated.

[Japan Times]

Recent North Korean defectors on how things have changed under Kim Jong Un

When Kim Jong Un became the leader of North Korea almost six years ago, many North Koreans thought that their lives were going to improve. In six months of interviews in South Korea and Thailand, The Washington Post talked with more than 25 North Koreans from different walks of life who lived under Kim Jong Un and defected. Some highlights:

A young mother (29) who defected in 2014 – “I could see how young he was, and I hoped that maybe things were going to get better.”

A student (37) who defected in 2013 – “I was in my second year at the university when this person was introduced to us as our new leader. I thought it was a joke. Among my closest friends, we were calling him a piece of s—. Everyone thinks this, but you can only say it to your closest friends or to your parents if you know that they agree.”

A drug dealer (46) who defected in 2014 – “I created some kind of fantasy in my mind about Kim Jong Un. Because he was so young, I thought he was going to open North Korea’s doors, but after he took power and I lived three years under him, life became harder.”

The beautification campaign of Kim Jong-Un

“I had experience in … six prison camps in China and North Korea,” said Joo Seong-ha, who escaped North Korea in 1998 after facing prosecution. A friend with powerful connections to the regime was able to get him out of detention — a chance for an escape to China. He immigrated to South Korea in 2002 and now works as a journalist in Seoul.

Joo Seong-ha says he has hope for President Trump’s efforts but warns America’s strategy needs to change. “The U.S. does not understand North Korea,” he said.

Fellow defector Hyun Inae hopes for more dialogue that will lead to results but says it will be difficult to achieve unification. “We had high hopes for the summit, but actually it was a little bit disappointing,” she said— explaining that she wished more progress would’ve have happened in the weeks following the summit in Singapore.

Hyun Inae says it’s important to not forget the brutality of the Kim regime especially amid what is being described as a media beautification campaign of the dictator. “I think the South Korean government is shying away from the human rights issue because it doesn’t want to get on bad terms with North Korean regime, so North Korean defectors are all worried about that,” she said.

The beautification campaign — as it’s called — is on display in both print and broadcast journalism in South Korea. It seems many South Koreans are willing to temporarily turn a blind eye on the evils of the Kim regime as a means to eventually achieve better relations.


Christians incarcerated in concentration camps in North Korea due to their faith

Religion is cracked down on in North Korea, with citizens encouraged to treat the ruling Kim dynasty as demigods. North Korea persecutes Christians, regarding believers as hostile elements that need to be eradicated, according to Open Doors, an organization that supports persecuted Christians.

Some 70,000 Christians are incarcerated in concentration camps in North Korea with many coming to an untimely death in squalid conditions, Open Doors has revealed.

When Christian Hea Woo, whose name has been changed for her safety, was forced into a camp there was a sign that warned ‘Do not try to escape, you shall be killed’. Speaking about the way she was treated at the camp, Ms Woo told Open Doors: “The guards were merciless. They kicked me and beat me with sticks. Christians are sometimes killed or locked up for the rest of their lives in concentration camps.”

And the threat of death always lurked. Ms Woo said: “Constantly there were people dying. Death was a part of our daily life. The bodies were usually burned and the guards scattered the ashes on the path. Every day, we walked down that path and I always thought, one day the other prisoners will be walking over me.”

But despite the threats faced at the camp Ms Woo was not deterred form practicing her faith. Using the toilet as a church, Ms Woo held short services for five other people, which included teaching the Bible verses and singing songs of praise.

Ms Woo was eventually released from the camp and now lives in South Korea.

{Express – UK]

Kim Sang-woon the company man

Kim Sang-woon, 30, left Tanchon in 2009, and nows works at a subsidiary of SK Corp:

When I was at college in North Korea, I was watching South Korean dramas and other foreign media. I realized that North Korea was so backward, so I decided to escape.

When I got to South Korea, I had to spend a year preparing for college entrance, so I applied to work part time at a call center because I thought it would be easy. But as soon as they heard my accent, they asked me how I thought I could work at a call center. So to make ends meet I started sticking up posters at 4 o’clock every morning, and I worked on a phone assembly line.

Then 2011, I entered university and started studying international trade and Chinese. During my senior year, I did an internship and spent some time in their Beijing office because of my Chinese.

I didn’t know if I could get into one of these big companies, but I had this conviction, so I studied very hard, and opportunities arose like visiting the United States with an entrepreneurship foundation, where I went to New York and Boston, and I even visited Harvard.

When I graduated, I applied to [a large corporation]. I did the entrance exam and went through two rounds of interviews. There were a lot of smart people among the competitors, but I think coming from North Korea and having overcome so many difficulties helped me to get my job. I never hide where I’m from. It’s a big point of pride for me. Now I am a supply chain manager, I’m in charge of bidding tenders. My job is to get the right price.

In 10 years’ time, I want to be back in North Korea, running the office in Pyongyang. Once North Korea opens up, I think there will be a lot of potential for development.

[Washington Post]

Eun-jeong the poet

Oh Eun-jeong, 26, defected from Kyongsong, North Korea in 2009:

My dad was a sailor, and he had alcohol problems, but still, I had a happy childhood.

In North Korea, I had read only one novel, which I’d borrowed from a neighbor. It was all torn and there were pages missing, but it was all I had. Years later, then in college in South Korea, I discovered a wonderful Korean literature professor whose way of teaching was very emotional, and I ended up taking three classes with him. The whole time, I was writing down little notes in my phone. I didn’t even know that the notes I was writing were poetry. I was just scribbling spontaneously.

“Even though there is oppression, there were also moments of happiness,
and I don’t have to deny those times.”

The biggest motivation for me behind writing poetry was missing my sister so much. I was so full of hurt, I was overflowing with hurt, and I had to let it out onto the page. It was a whole new world to me. I felt like each cell in my body was coming to life.

My first book came out in 2015. It’s called “Calling Home.” I was invited onto a TV channel, and I gave poetry readings. That’s how I was selected as a rising poet, and I was asked to contribute to another collection.

A lot of my works are related to North Korea. I have such fond memories of there. Even though there is oppression, there were also moments of happiness, and I don’t have to deny those times. People are hungry and life is hard, but the essence of humanity is the same.

[Washington Post]

The long road for North Korean defectors

North Korean defectors living in China can spend 5-10 years there without legal status, with the goal of making their way to South Korea and becoming South Korean citizens.

After seeking asylum in South Korea, defectors spend two months undergoing investigation. A human rights lawyer is on site to ensure that their rights are not violated during this process, but they cannot freely contact the outside world. They then enter Hanawon, a three-month program that provides healthcare (physical and emotional), education (including courses on history, democracy and human rights), job training, and settlement support or life planning.

With their monthly allowance they can buy phone cards to call family or friends in China or elsewhere. (Some have spouses or children still in China.) They are taken on field trips and spend a night with a South Korean family. One surprise for the residents has been when U.S. service members come to the facility to put on talent shows. Seeing those they’ve been taught to view as mortal enemies singing ballads and making jokes is shocking and eye-opening.

Trainees, which is what defectors at Hanawon are called, also secure South Korean citizenship while at Hanawon; they receive help in finding an apartment and their security deposit is paid for by the government. After leaving Hanawon, individuals can receive employment subsidies, college tuition, and incentives for savings (if you save $500 a month, the government will match that) for an additional five years.

 [Excerpts of Des Moines Register article by Mary M. McCarthy, professor at Drake University]

My crime was that I was born on the wrong side of the river

Around 70% of North Korean defectors are women, and many of them are targeted to be sold as brides or trafficked in China. Following is a firsthand account from high-profile North Korean defector Yeon Mi Park, who fled North Korea when she was 13 years old, finally arriving in South Korea two years later (2009):

“I found a note that my sister left, saying that, ‘Go find this person, and she will help you to go to China.'”

“My mother and I found the person, a lady [who told us] that she had a few daughters but she sent them all to China, and [claimed] she could help us to go to China. And we did not know that she was a broker, or anything, just we thought, “This stranger wants to help us,” and that’s how we just followed her lead.

“We escaped at night, the very same day. I went to China, and I was sold and trafficked and enslaved for two years there.

“[After finally escaping this terrible situation in China] my mother and myself crossed the Gobi Desert, in minus 40 degrees, at night to Mongolia. When I was crossing the Gobi Desert, I was 15 by then. I think I wasn’t scared of dying in that desert. I thought, “Even this universe abandoned me.” Like, I was punished [simply because] I was born in North Korea.  Read more

[Business Insider]

North Korean defectors: You are the winner already

Defectors spend up to three months in Seoul learning the history of the Korean Peninsula, and basic life skills like how to use an ATM and shop for groceries. Many defectors are drastically behind in education, as North Korea emphasizes propaganda over skills like reading and math. Defectors can be unprepared for things Hanawon doesn’t teach, such as understanding South Korea’s ultra-competitive social structure.

“After making it to Mongolia, we flew to South Korea,” recalls North Korean defector Yeon Mi Park. “They put us into a place called Hanawon Resettlement.

“Everyone thinks that once you escape, once you arrive in the land of freedom, people think that’s the end of the story, everyone is fine and happy, but that’s not [the case].

“The suicide rate among North Korean defectors in South Korea is three times higher than South Koreans, and South Korea [already] is one of the most high-suicide-rate countries.

“I fought for my freedom. It was not given to me, but I fought for it. So, I want the North Korean defectors struggling in South Korea [to realize] that you should be very proud of yourself, and don’t listen to anyone say that you are not enough, that you are different, you are not going to win. You are the winner already.”

[Business Insider]

Jeon Geum-ju the florist

Jeon Geum-ju, 32, left Hoeryong in 2008, and made it to South Korea:

I got good grades in high school, so I thought I’d go to college. But I discovered that in North Korea only the children of high-level officials are sent to college. The state assigned me to a shoe factory that didn’t produce any shoes. I ended up just doing manual labor like digging and planting trees.

One day when I was 20, I met a Chinese girl who was traveling with her family and she told me about South Korea. It was a pivotal moment for me. I’d never even left my city, but I was inspired to leave.

I was 24 years old when I finally arrived in South Korea. I was so conflicted about going to college. I would have been 30 by the time I graduated, so I did an accounting qualification instead because I was good at math.

Meanwhile, my childhood dream was to be a florist. So I started working for free for a florist on Wednesday and Friday nights after work and on Saturdays from dawn. When I was working in the flower shop, I was so happy. I began looking into this seriously as a career.

For three years, I saved up my earnings from my accountancy job so I could study in Canada for three months. Then I went to the U.K. to do a six-month floristry course. I loved it so much. I got an internship with a very prestigious florist in London. I started with menial work like cleaning, but I was sometimes allowed to arrange the flowers myself. So I always made myself available early in the morning and late at night. Because of this, doors opened to me.

Jun Geum-joo poses holding a bunch of flowers she made


Now I work in Seoul as a floristry teacher, and I run an online store selling bouquets of flowers. My dream is to open my own flower shop. Usually, people just buy flowers and walk out, but I want my place to be a place where people can sit and chat face-to-face surrounded by flowers.

[Washington Post]