(Seoul) – South Korea’s government should strengthen its efforts to promote human rights in North Korea, a coalition of rights-oriented groups said today in an open letter to South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
The International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK), joined by 45 other groups, representing over 300 civil society groups, and 7 concerned individuals, expressed concern about the South Korean government’s increasingly weak stance on human rights violations and accountability in North Korea.
“President Moon Jae-in and his government should be maintaining a strong and principled approach toward North Korea’s grave human rights abuses for the sake of all Koreans,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “President Moon should be addressing North Korea’s lack of cooperation with the United Nations system and recommitting to raising human rights issues in future negotiations.”
In November 2020, South Korea decided for the second consecutive year not to co-sponsor a resolution in the United Nations General Assembly condemning the human rights situation in North Korea. The South Korean government’s reluctance to make North Korea’s human rights record a priority is made worse by North Korea’s increased isolation. The North Korean government reportedly intensified surveillance on people breaking Covid-19 related restrictions, and created a buffer zone near the northern border with China, with guards ordered to “unconditionally shoot” on sight anyone entering without permission. In September, the North Korean navy shot and killed a 47-year-old South Korean fisheries official, Lee Dae-jun, on a boat near North Korea’s western sea border, also under the pretext of Covid-19 prevention.
“The human suffering and human rights violations caused by North Korea’s disproportionate and unnecessary measures on Covid-19 are directly related to the lives of the South Korean people and the future of larger negotiations on the Korean Peninsula,” said Eun-Kyoung Kwon, secretary general at ICNK. “President Moon Jae-in should condemn North Korea’s abusive measures on Covid-19, not look the other way for the sake of inter-Korean diplomacy.”
The coalition urged the South Korean government to demonstrate leadership, rejoin the co-sponsors of the UN General Assembly resolution on North Korea in December, and clarify what steps South Korea is taking to help improve the country’s human rights situation.
“South Korea’s leadership on North Korean human rights, especially at the UN, has always been absolutely vital,” said Benedict Rogers, senior analyst for East Asia at Christian Solidarity Worldwide. “The current South Korean government should not downplay or be silent on the crimes against humanity which a UN inquiry has itself accused Kim Jong Un’s regime of committing, but rather step up again and renew its leadership position on these issues. Lasting peace can only be achieved with justice.”