South Korea: Stand With North Korean Victims

South Korean President Moon Jae In delivers a speech in Seoul on March 1, 2020, in a ceremony to mark the 101st anniversary of the founding of a Korean independence movement against Japanese colonial rule. 


© 2020 Kyodo via AP Images

(Seoul) – The South Korean government should re-engage on promoting accountability for human rights abuses in North Korea, said a coalition of rights-oriented groups said today.

The International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK), representing over 300 human rights and civil society groups and individuals, joined by over 70 other groups and concerned individuals, sent a joint open letter to South Korean President Moon Jae-in about the issue. The groups and individuals urged the South Korean government to strengthen its pressure on North Korea to end abuses and to redouble efforts to seek justice for past crimes.

“President Moon Jae-in and his government should stop appeasing Kim Jong Un with the unfounded expectation that it will induce him to engage in dialogue,” said Eun-Kyoung Kwon, secretary general of ICNK. “Reducing the pressure on North Korea is a betrayal of the long-suffering North Korean people. The South Korean government needs to re-commit to promoting and protecting those most at risk in North Korea.”

In November 2019, reversing over a decade of past practice, South Korea decided to withdraw from co-sponsoring a resolution in the UN General Assembly (UNGA) condemning the human rights situation in North Korea. The same month, the South Korean government decided to deport two North Korean fishermen accused of murder to face almost certain torture and possible death in North Korea.

In light of the government’s disturbing actions, a coalition of 67 nongovernment organizations and 10 individuals wrote to Moon in December, urging the government to clarify its position and take corrective action. The government has not responded.

“President Moon’s failure to confront ongoing North Korean government atrocities in the gulags, and daily abuses against the North Korean people is morally irresponsible and strategically unsound,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Weakening pressure on Kim Jong Un only rewards his bad behavior and fails to improve the dismal human rights conditions in North Korea.”

The coalition specifically urged the South Korean government to co-sponsor the UN Human Rights Council resolution on North Korea in March and to re-join the sponsors of the UN General Assembly resolution on North Korea in November.

“True peace on the Korean peninsula can only come when the basic human rights of the North Korean people are respected, so it can’t be in South Korea’s interest to ignore the terrible crimes against humanity the North Korean regime committed,” said Benedict Rogers, East Asia team leader at CSW. “If he wants to achieve progress, President Moon should put North Korea’s human rights crisis at the center of his diplomatic agenda and restart his work with the international community to end impunity and protect human rights.”