The Japanese government’s failure to provide tuition-wavers for students attending pro-North Korean schools inside Japan “constitutes discrimination,” a UN committee has said in a new report.
“The Committee is concerned at the exclusion of Korean schools from the State party’s tuition-waiver programme for high school education, which constitutes discrimination,” the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights wrote in a regular report published on the domestic situations in all signatory countries.
“Recalling that the prohibition against discrimination applies fully and immediately to all aspects of education and encompasses all internationally prohibited grounds of discrimination, the Committee calls on the State party to ensure that the tuition-waiver programme for high school education is extended to children attending Korean schools.”
Since April 2010 the Japanese government has provided subsidies to offset the cost of high school education in Japan. However, it has not been providing funding to ethnic-Korean schools run by the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, or Chosen Soren (Chongryon), and funded in part by the North Korean government. Chongryon acts as North Korea’s unofficial embassy in Japan because the two countries do not maintain diplomatic ties.
Although Tokyo doesn’t officially recognize the schools, they have been around since the 1950s and have been heavily funded by Pyongyang throughout that time, albeit this funding has decreased in recent years as North Korea’s economic situation has deteriorated. There are reportedly around 70 such schools inside Japan which educate around 8,000 ethnic-Koreans from elementary school through high school. At their peak the schools educated 40,000 Koreans in Japan.
The schools usually feature portraits of North Korean leaders Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il on their walls and in many cases students enjoy a fully compensated trip to North Korea during their senior year.
Although they have historically taught a pro-Pyongyang curriculum to their students, teachers and administrators at the Chosen schools say this has changed in recent years and now the students even learn some South Korean history. Still, many Japanese still view the schools with extreme suspicion and claim they are used to develop spies for Pyongyang, a charge that the students themselves deny.
Much of the animosity towards the schools emanates from the continued anger in Japan over North Korea’s abduction of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s, an issue Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has taken an avid interest in resolving. Japan’s suspicion of North Korea is also fueled by Pyongyang’s nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programs.
Chongryon is itself a controversial organization in some quarters in Japan. It was established in 1955 for Korean supporters of North Korea in Japan (most of whose ancestors originated from what is now South Korea) and considers Juche its official ideology. As detailed in the memoir Aquariums of Pyongyang, in the past Chongryon was active in persuading many ethnic-Koreans in Japan to move to North Korea, which Pyongyang supported owing to these migrants’ wealth and the remittances they often received from relatives that stayed behind in Japan. At the same time, many of those who moved quickly became disillusioned with North Korean and tried to return to Japan. They were subsequently thrown into hard labor camps in North Korea.
Although Japan’s central government and many of its local ones have not been providing funding for the pro-North Korean schools since 2010, Prime Minister Abe came into office much more vocal in his opposition to ever funding the school. In February his government officially banned funding, a decision that was criticized by the United Nations and the International Olympic Committee at the time.
In its report, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights also criticized Japan for how it has handled the issue of “comfort women.”