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Letter to President Moon Jae-in RE: ROK’s stance on human rights in North Korea

Dear President Moon Jae-in,

We are writing on behalf of 67 non-governmental organizations and coalitions, and ten individuals from 22 different countries from Asia, Africa, South and North America, and Europe, regarding your government’s increasing disengagement with ongoing human rights violations by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

First, we were baffled by the South Korean government’s decision not to co-sponsor a resolution on November 14 on the human rights situation in North Korea during a vote at the UN General Assembly (UNGA)’s Third Committee. Secondly, we are concerned about your government’s November 7 deportation of two North Korea fishermen accused of murder, despite the obligation of the Republic of Korea (ROK) to provide due process and to protect anyone who would be at substantial risk of torture or other serious human rights violations after repatriation.

On November 15, the South Korean foreign ministry stated that the decision to drop the co-sponsorship was based on considerations of the overall circumstances in the Korean peninsula. While the ministry said the government’s concerns about the human rights situation in North Korea are unchanged, and vowed to “make efforts to substantially promote the human rights of the people of the DPRK,” it added the South Korean government will do so “through [the promotion of] peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula.”

Your government’s strategy, however, risks sending a message to North Korea’s government that their crimes will go unsanctioned, as Pyongyang might get the mistaken impression that the South Korean government is willing to overlook their illicit behavior in exchange for increased willingness to engage in the inter-Korean dialogue.  There is no reason to let up on public criticism of human rights abuses.  Dialogue and public human rights criticism are not mutually exclusive. We note that the improvement in human rights protections cannot take place just with the promotion of dialogue, cultural exchanges or development projects. We are also concerned by an approach that wrongly assumes achieving peace or improving inter-Korean cooperation depends on avoiding all official discussion of North Korean human rights violations. Stepping back from these necessary human rights discussions will only embolden those in North Korea’s leadership who are responsible for the worst abuses. 

The UN Security Council debates in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 on North Korea’s human rights abuses highlighted the intrinsic connection between human rights abuses in North Korea and regional peace and security. The Council’s abandonment of these debates is a flawed approach since any durable solution for the Korean peninsula will require addressing Pyongyang’s repressive rights record.

On October 24, 2019, at the UN General Assembly, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, Tomás Ojea-Quintana, urged states to explore avenues for constructive dialogue and at the same time to stop the sidelining of human rights concerns during negotiations. He noted that “integrating fundamental human rights into the current negotiations is crucial for the sustainability of any agreement for denuclearization and peace for the Korean Peninsula and beyond.”

We agree. In our view, silence and inaction on human rights only encourage abuses. We urge you to:

  1. Re-join the list of co-sponsoring member states on the Third Committee resolution on the situation of human rights in North Korea ahead of its expected passage later this month in a plenary meeting of the UN General Assembly.  
  2. Take corrective action and guarantee South Korea will protect the right not to be returned to torture and other ill-treatment. The South Korean government should investigate the deportation of the two North Korean fishermen, publicize its findings and hold accountable the officials who violated the basic human rights of the two fishermen.
  3. Underline your government’s disappointment with the UN Security Council’s ongoing silence on the human rights situation in North Korea, pointing out that debates in the council offer a valuable opportunity to speak out about Pyongyang’s egregious abuses as a threat to international peace and security.

We are aware that the DPRK considers human rights criticism confrontational. It has denounced the UNGA resolution as a “politically motivated reckless provocation,” and made other similar statements about the upcoming UN Security Council debate. Capitulating to North Korea’s bluster and keeping silent, however, will not encourage improvements in human rights conditions in North Korea. On the contrary, we believe the only way to ensure long term improvements is if the North Korean government continuously hears the same message about the need for change—the message that the international community will never fully welcome North Korea unless  it commits to and implements human rights reforms and begins cooperating with all human rights mechanisms at the United Nations.

Thank you for your consideration. We would be pleased to discuss these matters further with your staff.

Sincerely,

 

Groups

1969 KAL Abductees' Families Association

South Korea

ALTSEAN-Burma

Thailand

Amnesty International

 

Arakan Rohingya National Organisation 

UK

Asian Federation against Involuntary Disappearances

Philippines

Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons

Kashmir

Association for the Rescue of North Korea Abductees

Thailand

British-North Korean Escapee Community

UK

Centro para la Apertura y el Desarrollo de América Latina

Argentina

Christian Solidarity Worldwide

UK

Citizens' Alliance for North Korean Human Rights

South Korea

Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence

Indonesia

Committee for Human Rights in North Korea

US

Conflict Victims' Society for Justice

Nepal

Defence of Human Rights

Pakistan

Democratic Leadership Institute

UK

Families of the Disappeared

Sri Lanka

Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance

Philippines

FIDH -International Federation for Human Rights

 

HAK Association

Timor Leste

Health and Human Rights Info

Norway

HHK_Catacombs

South Korea

Human Asia

South Korea

Human Rights in Asia

Japan

Human Rights Watch

 

Human Rights Without Frontiers International

Belgium

Indonesian Association of Families of the disappeared

Indonesia

International Child Rights Center

South Korea

International Christian Concern

US

International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea

 

International Commission of Jurists

 

International Parliamentarians' Coalition for North Korean Refugees and Human Rights

 

Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights

US

Jubilee Campaign

UK

Justice Access Point

Uganda

Justice For North Korea

South Korea

Kanagawa Association for The Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea

Japan

Kenya Human Rights Commission

Kenya

Korea for All

Japan

Korean War POW Family Association

South Korea

Lawyers Associates

Nepal

Lawyers for human rights and unification of Korea

South Korea

Liberty in North Korea

US

Life Funds for North Korean Refugees

Japan

LUMEN

US

Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights

South Korea

NK Watch

South Korea

No Chain

South Korea

No Fence

Japan

North Korea Freedom Coalition

US

North Korea Strategy Center

South Korea

North Korean Human Rights Network

Japan

Now Action & Unity for Human rights

South Korea

Open North Korea

South Korea

People for Successful Corean Reunification

South Korea

Refuge pNan

South Korea

Rohingya Human Rights Network

Canada

SARAM - Stiftung für Menschenrechte in Nordkorea

Germany

South And North Development

South Korea

Stepping Stones

UK

The 88 Project

Vietnam

Transitional Justice Working Group

South Korea

Unification Academy

South Korea

Unification Media Group

South Korea

Unification Strategy Institution

South Korea

Women4Nonviolence in Peace+Conflict Zones

Norway

World Without Genocide

US

 

Individuals

David Alton, Lord

Independent Crossbench Member of the House of Lords & Co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea 

Janak Bahadur Raut

Conflict Victims of Nepal

Bikash Basnet

Human Rights Advocate, Nepal

Sonja Biserko

Former Commission of Inquiry (COI) member on the situation of human rights in the DPRK & current chair at the Helsinki Human Rights Committee in Serbia

Edita T. Burgos

Chairperson, Free Jonas Burgos Movement, Philippines

Marzuki Darusman

Former UN Special Rapporteur/Commission on Inquiry (COI) member on the situation of human rights in the DPRK

Aileen Diez-Bacalso

Secretary General, AFAD & Franco-German Prize for Human Rights Awardee 2019, Philippines 

Irina Krasovskaya

President, We Remember-Belarus

Yanghee Lee, Ph.D.

UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar / Former Chairperson of UN Committee on the Rights of the Child

Tomás Ojea-Quintana

UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK

 

 

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