December 15, 2020
President of the Republic of Korea
1 Cheongwadae-ro, Jongno-gu
Republic of Korea
Joint Open Letter to President Moon Jae-in
Re: Promoting Human Rights in North Korea
President Moon Jae-in,
We are writing on behalf of 47 groups representing over 300 non-governmental organizations and 7 concerned individuals in 16 countries to express our deep concern regarding the Republic of Korea government’s increasingly weak stance on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
We greatly regret your recent decision to again not co-sponsor a resolution on the human rights situation in North Korea at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly. Although the November 18 resolution passed by consensus, South Korea’s lack of leadership signals weakened international pressure on North Korea for its human rights abuses.
Your government’s justifications that it still “joined the consensus” and will work “with the international community toward substantive improvements in the human rights situation of the people of the DPRK” are inadequate. This abandonment of South Korea’s crucial leadership in promoting human rights issues in North Korea sends the message to North Korea that human rights issues can be ignored for the sake of political negotiations. On the contrary, we believe that any hope of success in negotiations with North Korea, on any and all issues, requires negotiations to be comprehensive and inclusive of human rights issues and North Korea’s general lack of cooperation with the UN system.
Your government’s reluctance to prioritize North Korea’s human rights record is made worse by the fact that the North Korean government, in the context of the Covid-19 crisis, has put in place disproportionate, unnecessary, and abusive measures under the pretext of combatting the virus.
Over the past few months, the North Korean government intensified surveillance on people breaking Covid-19 related quarantine measures and enforcement of a travel ban in the border area with China, including by reportedly laying new mines to deter people from crossing into China, and executing North Koreans caught while attempting to flee the country, or people breaking virus prevention rules or quarantine and going for banned walks to see the autumn leaves. In March, Chinese authorities told people to stay away from the North Korean border or risk being shot by North Korean guards. In August, the government created buffer zones one to two kilometers from the northern border, with guards ordered to “unconditionally shoot” on sight anyone entering without permission.
Also under the pretext of Covid-19 prevention, on September 22, 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. On September 24, the South Korean government said Lee was killed while attempting to defect to North Korea, which Lee’s family publicly and insistently said was impossible.
On September 25, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sent a note to South Korea expressing regret over the incident. In its report to the UN General Assembly on October 14, Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN special rapporteur on North Korea, said the incident seemed to be “an unlawful and arbitrary killing of a civilian who was not exhibiting any imminent threat to life of the security guards, which is in violation of international human rights law.”
We are also concerned about the economic impacts of the Covid-19 lockdown, as the North Korean government reportedly began reducing its staple food imports from China in July and totally stopped them in October, even after severe floods hit North Korea between June and September destroying crops, roads, and bridges, undermining the country’s agricultural sector. The North Korean government has also repeatedly rejected offers for international aid.
On September 25, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said the South Korean government will continue to push for peaceful engagement with North Korea. But South Korea’s failure to speak out about North Korea’s abusive and misguided measures signals a lack of genuine concern for the country’s deteriorating human rights situation.
We urge you to once again demonstrate leadership in promoting human rights in North Korea and re-join the list of co-sponsoring member states on the UN General Assembly resolution ahead of its expected passage later this month at the plenary meeting. We also urge you to clarify what steps South Korea is taking to work with the international community to pressure and encourage the North Korean government to undertake reforms and bring about substantive improvements in the country’s human rights situation.
Thank you for your consideration.
1969 KAL Abductees’ Families Association
Arakan Rohingya National Organization
Centro para la Apertura y el Desarrollo de América Latina
Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights (NKHR)
Committee for Human Rights in North Korea
Democratic Leadership Foundation (DLF)
Families of the Disappeared
FIDH – International Federation for Human Rights
Georgetown University Law Center
Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE)
Human Rights Data Analysis Group
Human Rights Foundation
Human Rights in Asia
Human Rights Watch
International Christian Concern
International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea
Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights
Jubilee Campaign USA
Justice For North Korea
Kanagawa Association for The Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea
Korean War Abductees Family Union
Korean War POW Family Association
Lawyers for Human Rights and Unification of Korea
Liberty in North Korea
Mental Health and Human Rights Info
NKnet (Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights)
North Korea Freedom Coalition
Open North Korea
People for Successful Corean Reunification (PSCORE)
Rohingya Human Rights Network
Saram – Stiftung für Menschenrechte in Nordkorea
Southern African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes
The 88 Project
Transitional Justice Working Group
Unification Strategy Institute
David Alton, Lord
Independent Crossbench Member of the House of Lords & Co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea
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
Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights, U.S. Department of State
Former UN Special Rapporteur/COI member on the situation of human rights in the DPRK
Yanghee Lee, Ph.D.
Former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar / Former Chairperson of UN Committee on the Rights of the Child
Former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK
International Expert Member, UN Independent International Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar
Kang Kyung-wha, Foreign Affairs Minister
Lee In-young, Unification Minister