More North Koreans filing lawsuits in the South

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More North Koreans filing lawsuits in the South

More North Koreans are filing claims in South Korean courts as the North’s economy worsens, experts say.

Yoon Dae-kyu, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said because the South Korean Constitution recognizes the North as a part of the Republic of Korea, North Koreans have the same protections as their Southern neighbors.

The reverse does not hold true. Because the South’s constitution does not recognize the North Korean regime, other legal experts say it’s impossible for a South Korean organization or individual to stand trial based on North Korean law.

In one ruling last month, the Seoul Western District Court rejected a suit filed by a North Korean interest group in Seoul on behalf of North Korean writers who charged that a South Korean publisher violated their copyrights on a medical book.

The Foundation of Inter-Korea Cooperation had hired a lawyer to represent the North Koreans in their 100 million won ($81,499) claim, but the court “couldn’t establish that the attorney had the right of representation for the writers.”

North-South copyright disputes are not an unusual issue in South Korean courts. In another recent case, the North Korean grandson of a North Korean writer was awarded 5 percent of all future royalties on copies of his grandfather’s book “Hwang Jin-i” sold by a South Korean publisher.

The Foundation of Inter-Korea Cooperation, which was established in 2004 to foster cultural exchanges between the two Koreas, said it has so far handled nine cases of copyright violation on behalf of North Koreans with help from a North Korean office that deals with copyright issues.

“Literary works by writers from the North have been introduced to the South through China ever since the South Korean government formed diplomatic ties with China in 1992,” an official from the North Korean interest group said. “But copyright issues remain unresolved.”

But South Korean courts also address inheritance issues between families divided by the Korean War of 1950-53. In February, four North Korean siblings surnamed Yoon filed a 2.5 billion won inheritance claim against their South Korean half-brother and stepmother, after missionaries told them that their physician father had amassed a 10 billion won fortune after defecting to the South during the war.

The North Korean families sought an injunction to prevent their South Korean relatives from selling the father’s real estate, and the case is ongoing.

Attorney Han Myeong-seob, a member of Society for Research on North Korean Law, said he’s aware that the staggering economy in North Korea drove the North Korean government to issue guidelines that encourages its people to file suit to obtain inheritance rights in South Korea.

“It’s critical to come up with special laws that would react properly when local courts rule in favor of North Korean residents,” Han said.


By Jeong Seon-eon, Kim Mi-ju [mijukim@joongang.co.kr]

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