Courts & Crime

Court finds North Korea can be held liable for torture, killing

A top appeals court on Tuesday found North Korea can be held liable for the torture and killing of the Reverend Dong Shik Kim, a Christian missionary and U.S. legal permanent resident.

Reversing a trial judge, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit concluded in a 13-page decision that North Korea could be held responsible for Kim’s grim fate.

“The Kims’ evidence that the regime abducted the Reverend, that it invariably tortures and kills prisoners like him, and that it uses terror and intimidation to prevent witnesses from testifying allows us to reach the logical conclusion that the regime tortured and killed the Reverend,” Judge David Tatel wrote for the three-judge panel.

Kim spent nearly a decade providing humanitarian and religious services to North Korean defectors and refugees who fled to China seeking asylum, Tatel recounted, adding that “there is no question that North Korean operatives abducted Reverend Kim in 2000 after the government found out about his activities.”

North Korea targeted Reverend Kim not only because of his “humanitarian activities,” but also because he was a Christian missionary who proselytized to defectors, according to court testimony cited by Tatel.

The Kim case is complicated by the fact that no one outside of North Korea has direct evidence of what happened to him. North Korea did not participate at the district court, where a judge noted the lack of direct evidence made it hard to “establish the severity of the treatment” Kim received.

The appellate court, though, countered that “requiring that the Kims prove exactly what happened to the Reverend and when would defeat” the purpose of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which allows foreign regimes to be held liable for truly heinous acts.

Tatel added that if North Korea has “evidence that it has not tortured and killed Reverend Kim,” it can be presented at district court so the North Korean government might avoid a default judgment.