Press Briefing: What Happened to Ethnic Koreans Displaced from Japan to North Korea? – Deception of “Paradise on Earth” and Enforced Disappearance




On November 9, NKHR held a press briefing to announce a new report release. The present report “What Happened to Ethnic Koreans Displaced from Japan to North Korea? – Deception of ‘Paradise on Earth’ and Enforced Disappearance,” looks into the systemic engagement of the North Korean government in organizing the ‘Paradise on Earth’ operation, which forcibly displaced 93,340 Zainichi Koreans (ethnic Koreans in Japan) to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) from 1959 to 1984, and the resultant human right violations amounting to enslavement against the resettlers.


Until recently, the state narrative was that the displacement operation was a purely humanitarian repatriation to allow the Korean diaspora to return to their home country after war, according to their own free will. However, in reality, the operation amounted to forced displacement, enslavement, and/or human trafficking planned by the North Korean government and executed by Chongryon. The North Korean government desired the labor, capital, and technical expertise the Zainichi Koreans brought and wished to establish international legitimacy as the true homeland of overseas Koreans and the proper government for the whole Korean peninsula.

To serve these purposes, the regime systematically organized the mass displacement through close interactions with Soviet diplomats and gave direct instruction to Chongryon to stage Nakadome Resolution, framing the mass displacement as the dearest aspiration of Zainichi Koreans. This report discloses the detailed activities of Chongryon executing the North Korean government’s order by promoting the mass displacement operation, recruiting resettlers with false and deceitful information (through propaganda, Chosun Schools and invitation diplomacy) and managing the registration and embarkation process of the mass displacement. The Zainichi Koreans were systematically deceived and coerced by sustained disinformation, deception, emotional blackmail and social pressure, and did not genuinely consent.

Due to their inferred capitalist experience in Japan and imputed South Korean origins, resettlers were generally classified as a ‘hostile’ class and subjected to state surveillance and persecution in the DPRK. A majority of the commonly recruited usual resettlers were assigned to reside in rural areas and likely forced to work in the occupational fields of mining, agriculture, fisheries, or construction. Being ignorant of what constitutes punishable acts in the DPRK, resettlers committed many so-called political crimes by attempting to escape the DPRK and/or raising complaints against the unfair treatments and enforced disappearances of their family members without full awareness of the consequences which included arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance, and detention in political prison camps where prisoners are subject to torture, inhumane treatment, exploitation, and forced labor. Intellectuals, technical experts, and businessmen, for their part, were targeted for displacement and were exploited for their knowledge and assets before being banished from the elite enclave of Pyongyang; stripped of their assets and positions; used to extort funding from their relatives in Japan; or even disappeared into political prison camps.

It is clear to this organisation that the weight of the evidence tends to a conclusion that the North Korean government, partly through Chongryon as its State organ, has engaged in crimes against humanity over the 25 years of the displacement operation. The operation itself was a slave trade and illegal deportation, leading to the enslavement, persecution, imprisonment, and enforced disappearance of almost 100,000 Zainichi Koreans. The North Korean government was aided and abetted in this operation with the material aid, political manoeuvres, and failures in due diligence of the Japanese and Soviet governments, the Japanese Red Cross, and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The prevalent discrimination and persecution leading to enforced disappearances of resettlers became more systematic as the Songbun (background) and detention systems developed with the evolution of the Ministry of Social Security in the process of strengthening the Kim family’s dictatorship in the 1970s. This report also analyses the changing patterns of resettlers’ enforced disappearance and different charges framing resettlers as political criminals.