Pressure on Pyongyang

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Pressure on Pyongyang

The United Nations has officially confirmed that Shin Sook-ja and her two daughters were forcibly held in North Korea. They were cajoled to defect to the North from their home in Germany by Shin’s husband, Oh Kil-nam, who later defected back to the South. Thanks to the efforts by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention under the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, a rescue campaign is expected to accelerate. With the latest development, voices calling for our government to be more aggressive to rescue them are getting louder. So far, the government has stepped aside to support civilian groups’ attempts to free the family.

The working group branded the 25-year detention of the three women as an “arbitrary (forcible) decision” by Pyongyang, adding that it is an outright violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

In particular, the group demanded North Korea take action for their immediate release. Pyongyang last month wrote a letter to the group saying that Shin had died from hepatitis and none of the women were arbitrarily detained. The letter claimed that the two daughters didn’t want to have anything to do with their father. The group’s statement amounts to a flat denial of Pyongyang’s claim. Having suffered unfathomable punishment at the infamous political prisoner camp at Yodok in South Hamgyeong, Shin and her two daughters are believed to now live in confinement in a neighborhood near Pyongyang after their plight came under an international spotlight.

The UN’s decision will hardly lead to an immediate release of the three. Yet, the international community’s efforts will likely be augmented to put more pressure on Pyongyang to let them go. The International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK), which drew the UN decision, has expressed a strong will to put the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and his son Kim Jong-un on trial at the International Criminal Court through a UN Security Council discussion.

Many doubts still remain over Oh’s behavior from the moment he defected to the North to the moment he defected back to the South. No matter, Pyongyang’s infringement of the three women’s human rights cannot be neglected. The government and civilian groups must do their best to free them. If Pyongyang should release them, it could expect a slight improvement in its international reputation.

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