Kim v. North Korea

In January 2000, North Korean agents kidnapped Reverend Kim Dong Shik, a permanent resident of the U.S., from his missionary work assisting North Korean refugees in China. Reverend Kim was then placed in a detention camp in North Korea and was subsequently tortured until his death.

Pursuant to the official policy of North Korea prior to and leading up to Reverend Kim Dong Shik’s abduction, torture and murder, North Korea’s official security services actively hunted down and abducted refugees and defectors who had crossed into China, as well as other perceived enemies of the regime, and brought these abductees to North Korea where they were imprisoned, tortured and frequently murdered. Reverend Kim had relocated to China in 1993 to provide humanitarian and religious services to the families of North Korean defectors and refugees who had fled across the Sino-Korean border in seek of asylum. The North Korean security service, upon learning of Reverend Kim’s activities on behalf of the defectors and refugees, abducted and forcibly transferred him to a labor camp in North Korea to thwart his work on behalf of those who had escaped.

In November 2009, Reverend Kim’s family filed suit against North Korea under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) in the D.C. District Court for their activities in connection with Reverend Kim’s abduction and torture. Plaintiffs secured an entry of default against North Korea but were denied default judgment for failure to meet the high standard set for proof of torture under FSIA.

In December 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reversed the District Court’s decision, ruling that the plaintiffs provided enough evidence to hold North Korea liable for Kim’s torture and suspected killing. The case was sent back to the lower court for a default judgment in favor of Kim’s family.

In April 2015, the DC federal court granted the plaintiffs a historic $330 million default award judgment against the government of North Korea in a civil damages trial for wrongful death, torture and kidnapping.

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.