Photo/IllutrationNorth Korean defectors and their supporters march to Tokyo District Court to file a lawsuit against Pyongyang for violation of human rights on Aug. 20. (Ryuichi Kitano)

Five defectors from North Korea who were living in Japan before moving there in the 1960s and 1970s filed an unprecedented lawsuit against North Korea for human rights violations they endured until returning to Japan.

The plaintiffs, including Tokyo-based Eiko Kawasaki, 76, claim that as a result of participating in the North Korean program to repatriate ethnic Koreans living in Japan, they were subjected to gruesome living conditions without basic human rights for decades.

They are demanding 500 million yen ($4.52 million) in compensation together from the North Korean government in the case filed at Tokyo District Court on Aug. 20.

However, whether legal proceedings can start depends on whether Japan’s legal system has jurisdiction over a foreign government, or whether the statute of limitations has run out for the accusations.

The plaintiffs claim the damage they suffered is ongoing, as their family members left in North Korea are not permitted to leave the country, and they are unable to see each other.

The repatriation program started in the late 1950s, several years after the Korean War truce, while diplomatic relations between North Korea and Japan remained severed. The program ended in the early 1980s.

Pyongyang advertised the nation as “paradise on earth.” Many Koreans who were living in Japan at the time and their families, including their Japanese wives, decided to move there.

The five plaintiffs are aged between 57 and 77. They all defected from the nation in the 2000s.

According to the plaintiffs, the North Korean government suppressed their basic human rights, including failing to provide enough food, despite falsely claiming the country was “paradise on earth” to entice ethnic Koreans in Japan to join the repatriation program. They also said it oppressed and forbade them from leaving the country.

The group condemned the repatriation program as “an act of government-sponsored abduction.”

In February 2014, the United Nations commission of inquiry on human rights in North Korea released a report that recognized acts of human rights violation by the nation, including the historical abduction of Japanese nationals and the repatriation program, as “crimes against humanity.”

In 2015, a group of people, including the plaintiffs, lodged a petition with the Japan Federation of Bar Associations for redress of human rights from both the Japanese and North Korean governments and the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon).

In February, Kawasaki filed a request to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to make an inquiry for possible punishment of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and other high-ranking officials.

In recent years in the United States, there have been a number of civil cases filed at local courts against the North Korean government for human rights violations, and plaintiffs have been awarded compensation.