Joint Meeting by South Korea and the United States in Support of Victims of Abduction by North Korea
East Asia and Human Rights Researcher
Global Human Rights Defence
Jeong Park, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs and Special Deputy Representative for North Korea at the U.S. Department of State, Lee Shin-hwa, Ambassador for North Korean Human Rights at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, met in Seoul on the 7th with the families of South Korean abductees, detainees, and prisoners of war (POWs) from North Korea (Hong, 2023). This is the second time since November last year that high-ranking officials from South Korea and the United States gathered to meet with the victims' families in Korea (Kim, 2023). The interview went well beyond the scheduled time and lasted nearly 90 minutes. Officials from the Peace Diplomacy Planning Team of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were also in attendance (Kim, 2023).
Deputy Assistant Secretary Park explained, "The United States has stressed the urgency of the abductees issue in the international community, including the United Nations, and has urged the immediate return of all abductees to North Korea," and that “The United States is doing its best to hold North Korea accountable for human rights abuses and promote the free flow of information in and out of North Korea” (Kim, 2023).
Families of the victims who attended the meeting stated that they had been campaigning for repatriation for over 20 years but were really grateful to have this opportunity (Kim, 2023). There were also calls against the South Korean government that it was too indifferent to the issue of POWs and abductees (Kim, 2023).
Kim Jeong-sam, the older brother of missionary Kim Jung-wook, who has been detained in North Korea for 10 years, delivered a letter to Deputy Assistant Secretary Park asking President Biden to pay attention to the issue of Korean detainees in North Korea (Hong, 2023). He also urged the South Korean government to make efforts to confirm the fate of North Korean detainees and return them (Hong, 2023).
Son Myeong-hwa, a representative of the Korean Families of Prisoners of War Association, stated that the UN Human Rights Council should examine of repatriation of POWs under the Geneva Convention as well as human rights violations such as forced labour, enslavement, and torture experienced by POWs and their descendants (Hong, 2023). Furthermore, Choi Seong-yong, the chairman of the Association of Families of Abducted Victims, said that the South Korean government's efforts to resolve the issue of Korean abductees were insufficient (Hong, 2023).
Last November, representatives from Japan, South Korea, and the United States presented a joint statement (Phnom Penh Joint Statement), where President Joe Biden, President Seok-Yeol Yoon, and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, reaffirmed their will to resolve the issue of North Koren abduction (Hong, 2023). President Biden has recently appointed Julie Turner as the special envoy for North Korean human rights. emphasising that the United States will not back down from the 'fight' regarding North Korean human rights (Kim, 2023). Earlier this month, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea held a similar meeting with victims and families that faced North Korean abduction. This issue is thus a prominent human rights concern, calling for urgent international attention and action.
In their concluding remarks, Deputy Assistant Secretary Park said, “It was a grateful and honourable time to hear the stories of the victims,” and that “It is important to record these truths,” and they will “your story to Washington and amplify it” (Kim, 2023). Ambassador Lee said, “It was an opportunity to think about what to do as an ambassador for human rights in North Korea” (Kim, 2023).
Sources and further reading:
Hong J, “美, 납북피해 계속 지원… 北과의 인권싸움 물러나지 않을 것” (세계일보, February 7, 2023) <https://www.segye.com/newsView/20230207518918?OutUrl=naver> accessed February 8, 2023.
Kim E, “韓美, 납북자 가족 공동 면담… “北인권 싸움서 지지 않겠다”” (Chosun Media, February 7, 2023) <https://www.chosun.com/politics/diplomacy-defense/2023/02/07/T35NHM3Z7JA3HC5JX5WKR23LOE/?utm_source=naver&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=naver-news> accessed February 8, 2023.
Kim S, “납북자 가족만난 美국무 부차관보 "北 인권싸움서 물러서지 않을 것"출처” (서울경제, February 7, 2023) <https://www.sedaily.com/NewsView/29LNRCB2GB> accessed February 8, 2023.
Kim Y, “미한 고위관리, 납북·억류자 가족 만나 지원 약속…“북한인권 싸움서 후퇴 안 해”” (Voa Korea, February 7, 2023) <https://www.voakorea.com/a/6951223.html> accessed February 8, 2023.