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South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaks during a joint press statement briefing at the First Mekong-Republic of Korea Summit in Busan, South Korea, Wednesday, November 27, 2019. © 2019 AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon

(Seoul) – The South Korean government should stop disengaging from ongoing human rights abuses by North Korea, a coalition of human rights and other groups said on December 16, 2019 in a joint open letter to South Korean president Moon Jae-in.

The International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK) and 76 nongovernmental groups, coalitions, and individuals from 22 countries, representing over 300 groups and individuals, said South Korea’s recent decisions betray past efforts to push for human rights improvements for the North Korean people.

“President Moon Jae-in and his government are ignoring North Korea’s grave human rights abuses in a misguided effort to mollify Kim Jong Un and improve relations with Pyongyang, but by doing so, they betray the long-suffering people of North Korea,” said Phil Robertson, Asia deputy director at Human Rights Watch. “President Moon should reevaluate this disturbing policy and reverse course before it’s too late.”

In November, South Korea decided to end its past co-sponsorship of an annual resolution in the United Nations General Assembly condemning North Korea’s rights record. The South Korean government also deported two North Korean fishermen accused of killing 16 fellow crew members in the East Sea to face murder charges in North Korea. The deportation of criminal suspects from South Korea to North Korea is an unprecedented and shocking departure from previous practice, the coalition said. Serious concerns have been raised that the two men could face torture in detention, followed by the lack of a free and fair trial.

“President Moon Jae-in’s government is signaling to Pyongyang that South Korea’s priority is engagement in inter-Korean dialogue without any demands in return, even at the cost of overlooking severe crimes,” said Eun-Kyoung Kwon, secretary general at ICNK. “It is crucial that the South Korean government shows that it remains committed to the basic principles of protection of those most at risk in North Korea, and to do it needs to correct its current stance.” 

The coalition urged President Moon to rejoin the resolution as a co-sponsor when member states vote on it at the General Assembly’s plenary session on December 18.

“If President Moon Jae-in really wants peace on the Korean peninsula, he cannot ignore the appalling human rights crisis in North Korea,” said Benedict Rogers, East Asia team leader at nongovernmental organization CSW. “Peace can only be achieved with justice, with an end to impunity, and with the basic rights and dignity of the people of North Korea respected and protected. It is essential to place discussion of human rights at the heart of engagement with North Korea and the human rights crisis in North Korea regularly on the agenda of the UN Security Council.”


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