A Washington federal judge dismissed a civil terrorism lawsuit against the North Korean government on Friday, finding the family of a man who went missing near the North Korean border with China failed to present enough evidence of torture.
The family of Reverend Kim Dong Shik sued the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in April 2009, seeking damages under the terrorism exception to the federal Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. Shik's family claimed Shik was kidnapped, tortured and murdered by starvation. The North Korean government never participated in the case and the clerk entered a default against the country in May 2010.
Shik's family moved for a default judgment in their favor. U.S. District Judge Richard Roberts denied the request on June 14, finding that although there was evidence North Korean officials tortured prisoners, there wasn't specific evidence about Shik's treatment.
According to the opinion, Shik's family presented evidence that Shik moved to China in 1993 to provide humanitarian and religious services for defectors and refugees from North Korea. Shik went missing around early 2000, and recently declassified U.S. Department of State documents cited unconfirmed reports he was abducted; a South Korean court convicted a North Korean intelligence agent of kidnapping Shik.
Shik's family presented expert testimony on the brutal conditions suffered by political prisoners in North Korea, from burnings and sleep deprivation to beatings and water torture. Roberts wrote that case law restricted him from considering general descriptions of torture in North Korean prisons in deciding whether Shik's family met their burden for proving Shik was tortured.
"[T]he plaintiffs' submissions do not establish the severity of the treatment of Reverend Kim in particular, or that his treatment amounts to torture under the rigorous definition of that term adopted in the" foreign sovereign immunities law, Roberts wrote.
Roberts noted his order could be immediately appealed on the question of how much evidence Shik's family was required to present to meet the standard for alleging torture.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs, Robert Tolchin of The Berkman Law Office in New York and Meir Katz of the Global Frontier Justice Center in Baltimore, Md., did not return requests today for comment.