The Israeli NGO Israel Law Center (Shurat Hadin), which is committed to fighting injustice worldwide, won a historic judgment in the US against North Korea for the kidnapping, torture and wrongful death of an activist helping North Korean refugees in January 2000, reported The Jerusalem Post. While the decision was made April 9, the announcement was made only on Monday.
Shurat Hadin “works with Western intelligence agencies, law enforcement branches and a network of volunteer lawyers around the world to file legal actions on behalf of world Jewry,” according to its website.
In this case, it represented the surviving family of Kim Dong-Shik, a South Korean with permanent resident status in the US. Kim’s wife and children are American citizens.
In a 2012 article, Front Page Magazine explained that at the time he was taken, Kim had been running nine shelters for North Korean refugees in China, helping dissidents escape to South Korea. China’s policy is to forcibly repatriate North Koreans to their homeland. Although Kim’s fate is not known, it is presumed that he is dead due to the brutal conditions in which North Korean prisoners are held.
Originally, a district court had dismissed the case on the basis of lack of evidence regarding Kim’s ultimate fate. In December, however, the US Appeals Court for the District of Columbia overturned the ruling, paving the way for last week’s default award judgment of $330 million. $15 million each was awarded to Kim’s brother and son, and the remaining $300 million are punitive damages.
The ruling was made based on the “terrorism exception” to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which was designed to hold state sponsors of terrorism responsible for their actions. It allows the US to sue foreign governments for their involvement in terrorist acts, something the state normally would not do.
The district court expressed its regret to Kim’s family for the earlier dismissal. It acknowledged that North Korea is notorious for the kind of kidnapping and torture of which it stands accused. Since the kidnapping could be linked to Pyongyang, the second-hand testimony regarding Kim’s fate, including a South Korean court ruling from 2005, were sufficient evidence.
At the time, Shurat Hadin Director Nitzana Darshan-Leitner had told The Jerusalem Post, “The district court was holding us to a standard that no family, who had a loved one kidnapped and murdered by an outlaw regime like North Korea could ever satisfy.
“Virtually no one has ever returned from the camps and been able to testify about the fate of individual Korean prisoners. This is an important human rights decision that will be utilized in all political abduction cases going forward. We are proud that an Israeli NGO was able to assist this family of a Korean priest living in the US…during this holiday season.”
Asher Perlin, who represented the family in the case, told the paper the court “sent a message that repressive regimes cannot exploit their repression to gain advantage in US courts.”
He added that “the fact that all witnesses were either murdered, imprisoned or are in grave fear of retaliation by the DPRK regime should not immunize North Korea from liability.”