ROK Supreme Court rejects ownership claim for property in DPRK

According to Arirang News (3/22/2011):

The Supreme Court decided Tuesday that South Korean nationals are not eligible to claim ownership of property in North Korea.

A 56-year-old man surnamed Yoo filed a lawsuit, claiming ownership of six lots in the Yeoncheon district of Gyeonggi Province, which is in North Korea, and demanded the court change the land registration back to his name, based on a deed in his ancestor’s name from the early 1900s.

Two lower courts had previously acknowledged the deed and ruled partially in favor of the plaintiff.

But the Supreme Court annulled the decision, saying it is impossible to verify the ownership of the land, since the original land registration was destroyed in the Korean War, restored in 1980 and then discarded in 1991 because the land is north of the Demilitarized Zone.

I am no lawyer or expert in the field of property rights, but my understanding is that when reunification comes property reconciliation will be a nightmare for both Koreas.  Many South Koreans have already prepared the paperwork to reclaim lands confiscated by both the Japanese colonial government and the DPRK government and they are simply waiting to file them.  I imagine there are many North Koreans that have done the same.  No doubt there will be numerous types of claims and remedies—too voluminous to list here.

At a minimum, this case seems to establish the first of many tests for the validity of land reclamation cases: verification.  If a claim cannot be verified in evidence, it will not be honored by the court, and we also have a better idea of what kinds of evidence are not admissible.

Although possessing the right documentation will be important, I can also see all sorts of creative solutions emerging to help establish a claim even for those who lost their land titles long ago–DNA comparisons from family burial plots, to name just one example.

If anyone is aware of any good papers on this topic, please let me know.  There is probably a hefty German literature in this area, though I am not sure how comparable the legal systems are particularly when it comes to the disposition of land.

Some other recent South Korean cases:
1. A South Korean court gave North Korean defectors the right to divorce their spouses in the DPRK so they could remarry.

2. The North Korean children of a deceased, wealthy DPRK defector (who died in South Korea) are suing in a South Korean court for their share of his inheritance.


Comments are closed.