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Court confirms inheritance rights of missing N. Korean

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Published : 2014-02-10 20:10
Updated : 2014-02-10 20:10

A Seoul court on Monday upheld the inheritance rights of a man who disappeared during the Korean War, overruling the 10-year expiration term stipulated by civil law.

The daughter of the man, surnamed Lee, filed a suit in 2011 to claim her share of the land owned by her deceased grandfather in South Korea. In 2009, the plaintiff escaped from North Korea, where her father lived after the Korean War.

The court’s decision set a new precedent in confirming the inheritance rights of South Korean descendants in the North. The current law stipulates that inheritance rights cannot be restored after being expired for 10 years.

“The infringement of North Koreans’ inheritance rights is now a common case due to the prolonged division of the two Koreas,” presiding judge Seo Young-hyo said in his ruling.

“(I) acknowledged that applying the same civil law without considering the two Koreas’ historical background will lead to a brutal outcome. Thus, there should be an exception for the 10-year expiration date of inheritance rights,” the judge said.

The court said it is allowing Lee to claim about 14 percent of the land owned by her grandfather on a mountain in South Chungcheong Province.

Lee’s father, born in 1933, was captured in North Korea while taking part in the Korean War as a student soldier.

According to the court, he was declared missing by the South Korean court in 1977. In the following year, a 50,000-square-meter plot of land that had been owned by Lee’s father was inherited by his mother and siblings.

The plaintiff claims that her father secretly met his South Korean relatives in China in 2004. The family reunion was discovered by the North Korean government and he died from torture in 2006.

The plaintiff escaped the reclusive country and filed the suit to claim part of the real estate. Lee’s relatives, however, claimed that her right to claim the inheritance had expired, as specified in civil law.

A number of separated family members from the North have filed similar lawsuits here in the past but the court has failed to recognize them.

In 2011, the Seoul Central District Court recognized North Koreans’ inheritance rights for the first time, setting a precedent in civil lawsuits filed by North Koreans.

A series of legal fights by North Koreans in South Korea led to the court enacting the Act on Special Cases Concerning Family Relationships, Inheritance, etc. between Residents in South and North Korea in May 2012.

Some 5 million North Koreans fled to the South during the war and many of their children are believed to be alive in the North, indicating that more claims by North Koreans over inheritance and property rights will be filed following the case.

By Suk Gee-hyun (monicasuk@heraldcorp.com)

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