Friday, May 27, 2011

Seoul Court Values North Koreans at 1.59 Million Won Each

A defector whose North Korean relatives were executed when the South Korean government revealed his identity for public relations purposes, has been awarded 35 million won for his 22 lost family members by a Seoul court. The ruling values North Koreans at approximately 1.59 million each, or $1,469.

The 41 year-old defector, who asked to be identified in the media under the pseudonym 'Kim Jung-yun' for security reasons, said he was disappointed by the ruling and planned to appeal in the United States, where he has now won asylum. He declined to elaborate on why he decided to settle in the United States rather than South Korea.

South Korea is home to more than 21,000 North Koreans who fled poverty, hunger and political oppression for the freedom to be discriminated against in the South where minimum-wage work often leaves them hungry and in poverty. Generally, defectors are normally regarded as fifth-class citizens behind South Koreans, white foreigners, South Koreans who have been overseas too long, and Korean Americans, though they are still placed slightly ahead of migrant workers. As such, legal experts have said the financial compensation ruling in the Kim Jung-yun case was relatively generous as many North Koreans living in the South are valued at a much lower amount by people here.

According to 59 year-old Kim, a professor of economics at Seoul International University, the case has significant potential implications for the cost of unification. “For the first time the government can now put a financial value on the human cost of a war with North Korea which kills all its people. 24 million people, at a market value of $1,469 each, gives us a total potential cost of just over $35bn." he explained. "But that's the worst-case scenario – in reality many North Koreans don't have relatives in the South and so the number of compensation claims are likely to be much lower."

After the ruling the Unification Ministry announced plans to create a law requiring defectors to receive government approval before sending money North to relatives they left behind. The plan has been widely interpreted as an attempt to stop financial transfers to the North, which only serve to enhance the net value of the North Korean recipient, potentially leading to larger compensation claim if the South Korean government later leaks their identity and gets them executed.

Defectors have said they don't want to give information to the South Korean authorities under the new law in case it jeopardizes the safety of their families, but officially the government insists such fears are unfounded, "We take the privacy and security of defectors and their families very seriously." a spokesman said.

Related Links
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