Seoul may again distance itself from UN resolution condemning Pyongyang
South Korea may not co-sponsor a resolution condemning North Korea’s human rights violations, Seoul’s Minister of Foreign Affairs said Monday.
In a parliamentary audit hearing, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said Seoul will review the final wording of the document before deciding on whether to join a list of other countries in co-sponsoring the resolution.
Every year for nearly two decades, the United Nations Human Rights Council has adopted a resolution condemning what it calls systematic and widespread human rights violations committed by the North Korean regime.
To support the Moon Jae-in administration’s diplomacy with the North, Seoul refrained from co-sponsoring the resolution last year, and South Korean delegates again did not take part in an unofficial meeting to draft the document last Oct. 13.
When asked about the passive stance on the issue, Kang told lawmakers South Korea was working to “convey our position to the European Union [EU], the main driver of the initiative, rather than join the co-sponsoring.”
The EU spokesperson to the UN Human Rights Council told Radio Free Asia, a U.S.-based news outlet, that South Korea will not co-sponsor the resolution at all, given its absence from the drafting meeting.
This approach has received heavy backlash from conservative opposition lawmakers in Seoul, who have pounced on the opportunity brought on by recent tensions between the Koreas to diminish the administration’s diplomatic policies.
Rep. Thae Yong-ho of the main opposition People Power Party, himself a defector from the North, slammed the Foreign Ministry for failing to mount a diplomatic campaign to condemn the North’s recent killing of a South Korean fisheries official last month.
The official, an employee of the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries’ West Sea Fisheries Management Service, was shot and killed by North Korean soldiers north of the inter-Korean maritime border in the Yellow Sea on Sept. 22. The South Korean government concluded the official had tried to defect, although his family adamantly denied the claim.
The victim’s older brother, Lee Rae-jin, met Kang last Wednesday to urge the Foreign Ministry to bring up the issue in an international setting, as well as to press for Seoul’s co-sponsorship of the UN human rights resolution on North Korea.
Kang, Lee said in a press conference, said she would review the requests with great consideration, but did not provide an answer to the UN resolution question.
Tomás Ojea Quintana, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea, addressed the shooting of the South Korean official at a UN committee on social, humanitarian and cultural issues Friday, denouncing the matter as a violation of international human rights law.
South Korea’s top inter-Korean agency, the Ministry of Unification, argued that the matter needs to be resolved through bilateral discussions between the two Koreas.
In a parliamentary audit session on Monday, Unification Minister Lee In-young vowed Seoul would “never give up” on efforts to retrieve the deceased official’s body, but noted the issue needed to be wrapped up “smoothly” through dialogue.
Lee also stressed South Korea would continue pursuing the dispatch of humanitarian assistance to the North, which he noted should be given regardless of political and security issues between the two countries.
Successful development and commercialization of a Covid-19 vaccine could be a “game changer” in terms of ties with the North, Lee said, noting that the vaccine could help expedite inter-Korean cooperation, starting with the health sector.
“If that is the case, we may be able to overcome the [tension caused by] the murder of our official in the Yellow Sea, and resolve the issue of the North closing its borders to everything due to antiepidemic efforts,” the minister added.
BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [firstname.lastname@example.org]