LFNKR’s Kato Addresses UN Commission

On August 29 and 30, an official Commission of Inquiry (COI) public hearing was held at the UN University in Tokyo. The following speech was presented by Mr. Hiroshi Kato, the executive director of Life Funds for North Korean Refugees (LFNKR).

Then, in parallel with the official hearing, three members of the UN Commission of Inquiry quietly visited the LFNKR office to hold a private, closed-door interview. Click here for an outline of the public hearing.

Below is the speech presented by Kato Hiroshi,
LFNKR Executive Director


The tragedy of the ethnic Korean-Japanese residents and
their Japanese spouses  who repatriated to North Korea

1. Why 93,000 ethnic Korean residents and 6,800 Japanese nationals went to North KoreaThe 1950-1953 Korean war reduced the North Korean capital to ashes. It had killed a total of three to four million people and split up 10 million families.

The North Korean army occupying Seoul abducted some 96,000 civilians, including researchers, engineers, technicians, and intellectuals, and transported them to North Korea. This was to make up for the intellectuals and engineers who had fled communist North Korea.

In order to build the country and the economy, North Korea needed to replace the labor force it had lost, including engineers, technicians, and intellectuals. To do this, it brought in workers from China and the Soviet Union to “build the Fatherland”. And from Japan, 93,000 workers crossed the ocean to North Korea, mainly thanks to the efforts of Chongryon (the General Association of Korean Residents) in Japan. Their promotion surge was called the “North Korean Paradise on Earth” campaign.


2. Why the North Korean “Paradise on Earth” campaign succeededOne factor was the political situation of the 1950s and 60s. With the birth of the independence movements in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, new nations were emerging from colonial occupation. This was an era in which socialism, which played an active role in this process, gave people new hope and new values.


This “paradise on earth” was touted as a place where the slogan “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” was true. Education and medical care would be free, and those with ability would be able to study at Moscow University. All of these promises sounded too good to be true.Japan had finally raised itself up from its loss in the war and was just beginning to escape from the hunger that had plagued it after the end of the war. Ethnic Koreans were the poorest segment of Japanese society and suffered from widespread discrimination. So the fact that journalists, politicians, and intellectuals were blinded by the promises of “paradise on earth” was a major factor in the campaign’s success.


However, a North Korea that was struggling to recover from the devastation of the war was desperately short on manpower and raw materials for manufacturing. So it was in the midst of great difficulty that the “Paradise on Earth” campaign was born to lure people to the “Fatherland”. These facts have become widely known in Japan in recent years. 
3. What happened to the people who emigrated to North Korea? What we are hearing today is just a small part of what happened, and I’d like to share a few cases with you today.One of the people who was used to promote the superiority of socialism was the noted tenor Kim Yon-Guil (Japanese name Genjiro Nagata). His wife was “disappeared” after having been heard to say that she wanted to go back to Japan. Genjiro himself contracted TB and, lacking medical care, died.

Cho Ho Pyon was a science graduate student at Tohoku University in northeastern Japan. His father had the means to get him a teaching position at Hamhung Medical University. Later, he was promoted to researcher at the Longevity Institute, which was devoted to lengthening the life of Kim Il Sung. However, he was arrested on charges of spying and subsequently escaped from prison. Amnesty International reports that the North Korean police torpedoed the boat in which he was attempting to escape.

Kim Te On sailed to North Korea on May 26, 1962 but was sent to the gulag on suspicion of spying. His younger brother was brought up on minor charges and died in prison of pellagra, a skin condition resulting from vitamin deficiency. His older brother Kim Min Ju, in Japan, has talked about his experiences. He has reported that North Korean spies came to Japan and told him that for around 300,000 US dollars he could get his brother out of the prison camp where he was being held.

Kozo Shibata, a Japanese spouse of an ethnic Korean who decided to emigrate to North Korea, said that they were told that after three years they would be able to return to Japan for a visit. He drafted a petition demanding that the Japanese wives of ethnic Koreans be granted such visits, as promised. As a result, he was charged with spying and sent to a prison camp; his whereabouts are unknown.

From these typical examples, it can be seen that during the Cold War, North Korea used these people to promote the so-called “supremacy of socialism”, to go on from there to reunite the peninsula, and to promote a positive image of North Korea to unemployed or impoverished people in Japan and South Korea in order to increase the numbers of people wishing to emigrate to North Korea.

Economic goals of the “paradise on earth” campaign included replacing the manpower lost during the Korean War, acquiring the assets of those emigrating to North Korea, using production plants for building the economy, and obtaining the latest Japanese technical knowledge and skills, as well as raw materials.

However, migrants from Japan were subjected to even more propaganda and surveillance than North Koreans were, due to the “morally bankrupt consumerist” nature of Japanese society. Gaining manpower from Japan was not the primary purpose. Rather, the real purpose was to obtain knowledge and raw materials, as well as the assets of the immigrants from Japan; those aims were vital.


Cho Ho Pyon Graduate student at Tohoku University at the timeMet and married Hideko Koike in 1961. Aware that he would likely not be able to become a university professor in Japan due to discrimination, he toyed with the idea of becoming a biologist. Right around the same time, he heard from a member of Chongryon that scientists were treated with great respect in North Korea. He decided to go to North Korea in February of 1962, and became a lecturer at Hamhung Medical University. However, five years later, there was a sudden end to the letters that he had frequently sent to his family. At the end of his last letter, there was this message: “Cho Ho Pyon and his whole family have injuries all over their bodies”.


Kozo ShibataAfter graduating from Tohoku University, Shibata worked for the Labor Ministry. But after marrying an ethnic Korean and becoming one of relatively few Japanese men to do so, he decided that he wanted to do something to help build his wife’s homeland. He abandoned his elite career and went to North Korea in 1960. Because of his activities in drafting a petition calling for the promise of a visit home to Japan for the Japanese wives of ethnic Koreans to be kept, he was fingered as a ringleader and sent to a prison camp. The fate of Shibata and his family is not known after 1964.