Israel Law Center Wins Historic Judgment for Christian Minister Kidnapped by North Korea

Kyodo via AP Images
Kyodo via AP Images

Reverend Kim Dong-Shik, a Christian missionary, human rights activist and U.S. citizen, has been missing since 2000.

According to a 2005 confession by a North Korea (DPRK) intelligence agent captured by South Korea, the Illinois resident and married father of two was abducted by DPRK agents in northeastern China and taken to North Korea. The agent confessed that he last saw Reverend Dong-Shik in the custody of North Korean intelligence agents after he delivered him over to the regime in Pyongyang.

Seeking justice for Dong-Shik’s family is Israeli civil rights organization ShuratHaDin – Israel Law Center, which has been seeking Justice for American and Israeli victims of terrorism since 2003.

Shurat HaDin founder Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of Tel-Aviv led the Dong-Shik family’s legal team that included attorneys Robert Tolchin of New York and Meir Katz of Maryland, with an appeal successfully drafted and argued by attorney Asher Perlin of Florida.

Under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia awarded the family “a historic $330 million default award judgment against the government of North Korea in a civil damages trial for wrongful death, torture, and kidnapping.  This included $15 million each to Kim’s son and brother, as well as $300 million in punitive damages,” the statement read.

As described in a Shurat HaDin press release:

Kim, a key activist in the North Korean “underground railroad,” was working to assist those seeking to leave this oppressive regime. The civil action, brought in 2008, alleged that the DPRK brutally kidnapped the priest and then tortured and starved him to death in a North Korean political prison camp. Pyongyang has never admitted its involvement in Reverend Kim’s abduction nor provided the family with any information concerning his death.

The court decision marks the first time that a U.S. court has determined that a foreign government that kidnaps an individual who is then never heard from again, has the burden of proving that the individual has not been murdered.

“This is an important human rights decision that will be utilized in all political abduction cases going forward,” said Darshan-Leitner. “We are grateful that the court has found that once we proved the kidnapping of Rev. Kim by North Korean intelligence and brought human rights experts to testify about the horrific conditions in the political detention camps, the burden must be on Pyongyang to show he was still alive after so many years.”

Darshan-Leitner added, “We are proud that an Israeli NGO was able to assist this family of a Korean priest living in the US and help to bring them a measure of closure.”

In an exclusive email to the Salomon Center, Darshan-Leitner conveyed the Kim Family’s gratitude “for all the long years of work that led to this court decision. They feel that justice has been served but still feel the great loss of their father.”

She added:

North Korea was taken off the State Department’s terrorism list although it is widely understood this outlaw regime is still a major player in international terrorism and a perpetrator of horrific human rights abuses. It’s hard to understand why they were given this free pass and underscores why it is important to never ease up diplomatic pressure and sanctions on rogue states like North Korea and Iran.

Collecting the judgment for the family will not be an easy task.

“We are already searching internationally for North Korean assets. This includes bank accounts, real property and shares in companies,” said Darshan-Leitner. “When we find them we will domesticate the judgment in the local jurisdiction and proceed to execute against the North Korean property. We intend to enforce the entire $330 million award for the family of Reverend Kim.”


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