July 08, 2020 10:25
Two South Koreans who were prisoners of war during the Korean War have won a landmark compensation suit against North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
The Seoul Central District Court ordered North Korea and its leader to pay W21 million each to the two former POWs, Roh Sa-hong and Han Jae-bok (US$1=W1,197). The ruling is expected to lead to similar lawsuits by other South Korean POWs as well as people abducted by North Korea.
Roh (91) and Han (86) fought for South Korea during the Korean War. When they were captured they were forced to work at a coal mine in North Korea's South Pyongan Province for 33 months starting in 1953. They only escaped from the North and returned to South Korea in 2001.
They filed the lawsuit in the Seoul Central District Court in October 2016.
At the crux of the trial was North Korea's legal standing. South Korean law does not consider North Korea a country but an "illegal anti-government organization."
But the court deemed North Korea a "non-corporate association" and therefore liable for damages. "The violations occurred during the leadership of [North Korean nation founder] Kim Il-sung, but [Kim Jong-un] bears joint responsibility as the heir to the leader."
The lawyers representing the plaintiff said they plan to seize North Korean assets in South Korea in order to fund the compensation payments. That could include royalties paid by South Korean broadcasters and publishers for using North Korean state TV clips and publications.
The Foundation of Inter-Korea Cooperation had been sending the royalties to North Korea since 2004, but around W2 billion in payments have been deposited with a South Korean court since 2008, when inter-Korean exchanges were halted after the shooting of a South Korean tourist in the North's Mt. Kumgang resort.
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