Bring them back to the South

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Bring them back to the South

North Korea has notified the United Nations that Shin Sook-ja - who has long been trapped in the North with her two daughters after her husband Oh Kil-nam defected to South Korea in 1992 - has died. Pyongyang added that her two daughters don’t want to see their father. The North responded to a letter sent from the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) under the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The North’s move seems to be aimed at neutralizing an impassioned plea by the International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK) for help in confirming whether the three of them were still alive and for help in their repatriation. The ICNK’s request to Pyongyang opened a window of opportunity for correcting Pyongyang’s inhumane treatment of the three women who were sent to a concentration camp in the North.

The misfortune of Shin and her two daughters began with her husband Oh, who still makes efforts to bring them back to the South. Actually, Oh persuaded his family to go to North Korea in 1985 after having been cajoled by a famous South Korean composer from Tongyeong, South Gyeongsang, into defecting to the North when he was studying economics in West Germany. But Oh later defected to the South when he was dispatched to Germany for a mission in 1992. After Oh’s defection to the South, it was confirmed that Pyongyang sent his family to a merciless political prisoner camp in Yoduk, South Hamgyong. An unconfirmed news report stated that Shin was removed to a controlled area near Pyongyang after her health seriously deteriorated.

North Korea has displayed an utterly insincere attitude in its delivery of the news of Shin’s death. It succinctly said she died of hepatitis, without mentioning when or where. The dubious statement is likely intended to conceal the fact that she died under an inexorable condition considering the subhuman treatment she received at the Yoduk concentration camp for nearly 20 years. Pyongyang also denied that her two daughters have been living in confinement.

Pyongyang’s answer to the letter by the WGAD must be false. The government must use every possible means, including international cooperation, to unveil how Shin died and if her two daughters are alive. The government should ask the UN to confirm if the two daughters really want to remain in the North. If they do not, the government must do everything it can to bring them back to South Korea.

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