UN tells NK to release South Korean family
By Kim Young-jin
The United Nations has requested North Korea to release and compensate a South Korean family held in the Stalinist state for 25 years, confirming it is a case of arbitrary detention, activists said Tuesday.
It was the U.N.’s most specific statement over Shin Sook-ja, a 70-year-old South Korean woman — who the North claims is dead — and her two daughters, thought to remain there after their father escaped to the South.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade welcomed the stance, calling on Pyongyang to respect international norms and promptly release the detainees.
According to a document adopted by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention early this month, the three had been detained in violation of articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The working group “requests the (North Korean) government to take the necessary steps to remedy the situation, which are the immediate release of, and adequate reparation to, these persons,” it said. The group is under the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHCR).
The document was made public by The International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK), a group helping Oh Kil-nam, the economist who brought the family to the North in 1985 but escaped the next year. In a press conference, Oh called the development “positive” and said he hoped “to embrace my daughters once again.”
Activists welcomed the move.
“This is an authorized opinion by the U.N., so now we can push member states to help rescue the family,” said Kwon Eun-kyoung, an ICNK representative.
The North told the UNHCR in April that Shin had died of hepatitis, referring to her as Oh’s “ex-wife” and that the daughters, Hae-won and Kyu-won, had renounced their father.
Oh and the activists want the North to prove Shin’s death by providing more detailed information or repatriating her remains. Oh, who at the time held left-wing beliefs, took the family to the North after being told by authorities his wife could receive free hepatitis treatment there. But Oh says the North forced him and his wife to create propaganda for the regime.
He escaped when Pyongyang dispatched him to Germany to recruit more South Koreans.
Pyongyang is believed to have abducted 3,835 South Korean citizens, mostly fishermen, since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War with 500 thought to remain there.
The family’s saga has garnered attention earlier this year on the back of a grassroots campaign launched from Shin’s hometown of Tongyeong, South Gyeongsang Province. Oh took out full-page ads in local papers calling on U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon to take up the issue.
North Korea is considered one of the world’s worst human rights violators, operating a sprawling political prisoner system and blocking the flow of outside information to maintain an iron-fisted rule over its people.