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Gov't urged to be more active in resolving abductees, detainees, POWs issue

2024-07-13 20:29:20      点击:987
Rights groups hold a conference in front of  Government Complex Seoul,<strong></strong> Wednesday, to call for raising awareness and resolving the issue of abductees, detainees and prisoners of war in North Korea. Yonhap

Rights groups hold a conference in front of Government Complex Seoul, Wednesday, to call for raising awareness and resolving the issue of abductees, detainees and prisoners of war in North Korea. Yonhap

Experts say abductee issue concerns lives, safety of citizens as well as fundamental human rightsBy Kwak Yeon-soo

The government is facing growing calls to be more active in resolving the issue of South Koreans abducted and detained by North Korea by addressing it at international forums and other high-level events.

Rights groups said the government should raise awareness on this issue at the ongoing regular session of the U.N. Human Rights Council, which will last until April 5, as well as at the Summit for Democracy, which will be hosted by Seoul for a three-day run from Monday. Launched in 2021, the annual summit is led by the United States and aims to support and renew democracy while at the same time, confronting authoritarianism around the world.

Currently, six South Korean citizens — including three missionaries — have been detained in the reclusive regime for years on charges of committing what Pyongyang calls "anti-North Korea crimes." In the South, nothing is known of their respective whereabouts and what has become of them.

Separately, 516 South Koreans out of an estimated 3,835 people who were kidnapped by the North after the 1950-53 Korean War, have yet to return home, according to government data. At least 60,000 prisoners of war (POWs) are also estimated to have not come back home after being detained in the communist North, with many of them believed to have died.

The issue is resurfacing as this year marks the 10th year since the arrest of South Korean missionaries Choe Chun-gil and Kim Kuk-gi.

Choe’s son will attend one of the sessions of the U.N. this month to urge the UNHRC to step up efforts for his father’s repatriation, according to the Ministry of Unification.

Unification Minister Kim Yung-ho has a meal with the son of Choe Chun-gil, a missionary who has been detained in North Korea since 2014, at a place where the son lives on Feb. 7. Yonhap

Unification Minister Kim Yung-ho has a meal with the son of Choe Chun-gil, a missionary who has been detained in North Korea since 2014, at a place where the son lives on Feb. 7. Yonhap

Shin Hee-seok, a legal analyst at Transitional Justice Working Group, said the government should do its utmost to bring back South Korean abductees, detainees and POWs.

“This is a critical issue concerning the sovereignty of Korea and the lives and safety of South Korean citizens," Shin said. "It’s also about protecting fundamental human rights. South Korea should become a co-penholder of the North Korean human rights resolution to be adopted by the U.N. Human Rights Council in April."

For the past 20 years, South Korea has never been a penholder of North Korean human rights resolutions at the U.N. and failed to display even a minimum amount of consistency, refusing to even co-sponsor North Korean human rights resolutions from 2019 to early 2022.

Shin said, “I hope President Yoon Suk Yeol mentions South Korean abductees, detainees and POWs in North Korea and pledges support for their safe return to South Korea in his keynote speech at the Summit for Democracy. It would be better if North Korean human rights were discussed during the summit.”

Lee Kyu-chang, a senior analyst at the Korea Institute for National Unification, a state-funded think tank, called for raising international interest in the detainee issue through cooperation with the international community.

“We have to deepen our cooperation with domestic and international human rights groups that hold consultative status at the U.N. Economic and Social Council, so that side events designed to encourage the world to know the real situation of detainees in North Korea can be held during UNHRC sessions,” he said.

Lee also said the Protestant community should join hands with the international community to launch a worldwide campaign calling for the return of those detainees.

“Given that three out of six detainees are missionaries, the Protestant community should cooperate with the international Christian network to pressure the North Korean regime,” he said.

To raise the issue domestically, he emphasized that the National Institute for Unification as well as a few other relevant agencies and groups should hold more lectures about abductees, detainees and POWs and create a textbook that deals with the issue.

New policies

In its effort to resolve the issue, the unification ministry rolled out eight policy goals on Thursday.

They include raising both domestic and international awareness of the issue, supporting families of those who are detained in North Korea, seeking cooperation with the U.S. and Japan as well as international organizations such as the Red Cross and the U.N. and engaging in negotiation preparation in case the two Koreas resume dialogue.

The Japanese government said there are at least 12 people who have not returned home after being abducted by North Korea.

In a related move, the government set up a task force last September to handle the issue of abductees, detainees and POWs. In February, it created a symbol of South Koreans abducted and detained in North Korea with an image of three forget-me-nots in a bid to raise public awareness.

“The Yoon Suk Yeol administration understands the issue of South Korean abductees and detainees is a violation of human rights against South Korean citizens,” a ministry official said.

“We will support efforts by families of abductees and detainees of the North to draw international attention. We plan to call for resolution of the issue at the Universal Periodic Review in November.”

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