Landmark ruling against North
Former POWs win damage compensation suit
A local court made a landmark ruling Tuesday that North Korea and its leader Kim Jong-un should pay 21 million won ($17,500) each in compensation to two former South Korean prisoners of war (POWs) for forced labor they endured while in captivity there. The ruling carries significant implications because it is the first time that a South Korean court has exercised its jurisdiction over North Korea and its people.
The decision is also meaningful as it marked the first time for a local court to issue a compensation order against the North and its leader. It had been impossible to see such an order because of national division. So the court action has set a new precedent.
More importantly, the ruling is in line with Article 3 of the Constitution that stipulates: "The territory of the Republic of Korea shall consist of the Korean Peninsula and its adjacent islands." This literally means that South Korea's territory encompasses the Northern part of the peninsula. Yet, in reality, the South has so far been unable to exercise its jurisdiction over the North since the national division after Korea's 1945 liberation from Japanese colonial rule.
In this sense, the court's exercising of its jurisdiction is unprecedented. Of course, it is still uncertain if the South can effectively achieve anything by doing this. But as far as the court ruling is concerned, it is possible to execute the compensation order by allowing the plaintiffs to seize North Korean assets in the South.
The former POWs, identified as Han and Roh, plan to take legal procedures to seize copyright fees worth about 2 billion won that were collected from local media outlets, mainly broadcasters, for their use of television footages and pictures released by the North Korean press. The payment of the money has been suspended since 2008 when a North Korean soldier killed a South Korean female tourist at the Mount Geumgang tourism resort.
If they secure the money, the forced labor victims will become the first South Koreans to get financial compensation for their damage they suffered in the North. The court and the Seoul government need to cooperate in ensuring the smooth seizure of the North Korean assets.
However, Pyongyang is unlikely to accept the ruling. The Seoul court's hearings on the case have been held without the presence of the defendants since the civil suit was filed in October 2016. The surviving victims said that they were captured by North Korean forces during the Korean War. They were not repatriated to the South at the end of the war and forced into labor from September 1953 and June 1956. They fled from the North and returned home in 2000 and 2001.
Hopefully, the case should serve as a milestone in enabling South Koreans to get paid for the damage the North inflicted on them in the past. Seoul should make efforts to hold the North responsible for its atrocities against South Koreans.
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