Defending the detaineeA South Korean worker has been detained at the Kaesong Industrial Complex for five days now. We don’t have any information other than what the North tells us. North Korea claims that the South Korean had criticized the North Korean regime and corrupted a female co-worker there, instigating her to defect. The North also argues that inter-Korean agreements governing the Kaesong complex and Mount Kumgang resort give it grounds for the man’s detention. But the communist regime is not responding to our government’s request to contact the detainee and provide legal defense for him.
With the deterioration of inter-Korean relations and the rise in military tension ahead of the North’s rocket launch, this is worrisome.
When the two Koreas were on better terms, communication between them regarding Kumgang or Kaesong was relatively smooth. When a South Korean was detained, we were at least told the reason, and both parties handled the matter reasonably. For instance, a South Korean official was present during an investigation following a drunk driving accident.
This time, the North has kept the South in the dark and ignored our request to contact the detainee. We’re concerned that the North will simply interpret the inter-Korean agreements to their advantage, and exacerbate the situation.
The problem is that our government is virtually helpless. According to international law, when a foreign citizen has been arrested, the consulate of that person’s state must be notified and the person must be guaranteed the right to contact his or her consulate. Of course, since the two Koreas don’t have formal diplomatic ties, that law does not apply. But given the special nature of inter-Korean relations, the responsibility of serving as the de facto consulate over the past decade has fallen to the South Korean management body representing the South’s businesses in Kaesong or to Hyundai Asan, which runs the Kumgang tours.
Now, the North is ignoring that arrangement. The two American journalists detained in Pyongyang were granted the right to legal counsel, showing that the Kaesong act is discrimination on the North’s part.
The Kaesong complex is a testing ground for reconciliation and cooperation between the two Koreas. It is an important channel for dialogue that the two Koreas must continue to develop.
If this most recent incident cannot be resolved, inter-Korean relations will become even more hostile than before. And that would be a crime of epic proportions. We’d like to believe the North won’t want to take things that far. The matter should be resolved with dialogue, which is something we’ve learned over the years. The first step would be for the North to give us access to the detainee.