Activists to take China to UN over 4 detainees
Korean activists said Monday they would take the case of the four South Koreans detained by China to the United Nations as allegations of human rights violations with the government are seen to be futile.
They said they will petition the U.N. working group on arbitrary detention and its special rapporteur on torture.
The four have reportedly been denied access to lawyers and family while being held for over 50 days on charges of threatening Chinese national security. Prominent anti-Pyongyang activist Kim Young-hwan is among the group.
“China has broken international law by not allowing the detainees to meet with lawyers or arranging South Korean diplomats to meet or call them,” Kwon Eun-kyoung, manager of Open Radio for North Korea and author of the petition said. “We hope the United Nations will take the case.”
The foreign ministry says Seoul diplomats have met with Kim. But activists here allege that Kim was under heavy pressure from Chinese police to refuse diplomatic support. Concerns persist that the remaining three were pressed to refuse a similar meeting.
Beijing has not elaborated on the detention.
Kwon, who is working on the petition in coordination with the Committee for the Release of Kim Young Hwan, said China has also violated its own laws.
“They can hold anyone for 37 days without a charge, according to China’s laws. It’s well past that point already,” she said.
Criticism over the handling of the case is not limited to Beijing.
Ha Tae-keung, a human rights activist-turned lawmaker-elect of the ruling Saenuri Party, said President Lee Myung-bak should have raised the issue during a summit with Chinese President Hu Jintao earlier this month.
Questions have also been raised over why the main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) did not immediately give its stance on the situation.
Observers say the DUP’s non-response was expected given Kim’s ties with North Korean human rights and defector organizations ― typically associated with the right ― as well as the liberal camp’s long-held policy of engagement with Pyongyang.
Traditionally a stronghold of the left under the leadership of former Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, analysts say the human rights discourse has grown murky in recent years due to polarized policies on how to handle Pyongyang. Liberals tend to be more outspoken on rights for workers, the disabled and sexual minorities.
Kim’s case rekindles frustrations that erupted earlier this year over Beijing’s repatriation of North Korean refugees to their Stalinist homeland, where they are known to face harsh punishment. Rallies in front of the Chinese Embassy were led by Park Sun-young, a conservative lawmaker.
Cross-border tensions have soared after conservative President Lee Myung-bak ended a decade of engagement with Pyongyang and prioritized denuclearization and human rights in the North.
Won Jae-chon, an expert in human rights law at Handong International Law School, downplayed the significance of partisan politics in the matter.
“Whether you are liberal or conservative we should be very firm over any sovereign nation detaining our citizens,” he said, adding that it was most important to ensure whether the detainees were being given due process within Chinese law and international human rights treaties.
“I think at this point the foreign ministry and the prosecutor’s office ― which maintain relationships with Chinese authorities ― need to use all the channels to find out what the situation is,” he said.