The Moon administration’s hypocrisy

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The Moon administration’s hypocrisy

Thae Yong-ho
The author is a lawmaker from the People Power Party.

The murder of a South Korean fisheries official in the Yellow Sea in September 2020 is still shaking political circles in South Korea. The Moon Jae-in administration was sitting on its hands for six hours from the moment the North Korean Navy discovering the official on the tense maritime border to the moment of his murder. Relatives of the official in South Korea were dumbfounded by the liberal administration persistently siding with North Korea and attributing the tragedy to the official’s “voluntary defection” without making any efforts to find the truth behind his unfathomable death.

Worse, the Moon administration decided to seal sensitive communications with North Korea up to 30 years by designating them presidential records. Fortunately, the conservative Yoon Suk-yeol administration is trying to make the records public. As expected, the Democratic Party (DP) vehemently resists. But the truth behind the incident cannot be kept secret forever.

The same goes for the suspicious decision by the Moon administration to forcibly repatriate two North Korean defectors in November 2019. That constitutes a dereliction of duty by a state. The two North Koreans expressed intentions to defect after being captured by the South Korean Navy in the East Sea, but they were handed over to North Korea five days later with their hands tied behind their backs and with their eyes blindfolded.

In North Korea, defection is a serious crime. As the Moon administration repatriated them against their wishes, that constitutes a serious crime against humanity. The government based its decision on the two defectors’ alleged admission of murders of their colleagues on the boat in a conflict over defection.

Based on the claims by the South Korean government, North Korea may have already executed the two, probably in public. Despite North Korea’s denials, public executions are held frequently there. I myself watched the terrible scene during my college days in the North in the 1980s.

I was shocked to see the Moon administration repatriate them against their will. If they really committed heinous crimes before their defections, they could be properly punished by South Korean laws. (The Constitution defines North Koreans as “our nationals.”) I never saw such forced repatriations in the past.

It is terrible that the government sent them back to North Korea even though it knows well what kind of punishment they would receive. Moreover, I was heartbroken at the news that the two defectors had plopped down on the ground in despair after crossing the border with their eyes covered. Even Chinese detention center officers don’t treat hungry North Korean defectors like that. Before repatriating them, the Chinese officers reportedly tell them to “return if you get hungry next time.”

The lead-up to the exposure of the case was also weird. The Blue House had to reveal it after a text message of one of its staffers had been captured by a TV camera after trying to cover it up. And yet, Chung Eui-yong, former head of the National Security Office at the Blue House, said the two defectors “did not meet even the minimum requirements for the protection by our Constitution,” citing the murder of their colleagues on the boat.

If North Korean defectors cannot be considered “our nationals,” as the Constitution says, just because of heinous crimes, that’s sheer sophistry. As the repatriation will definitely end up with serious punishments, it violates the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. I could not sit on my hands. I did my best to criticize the Moon administration’s merciless response by appearing on television and writing columns in newspapers. But nothing changed.

That partly explains why I became a lawmaker in South Korea to help change the way the government deals with the recalcitrant regime in Pyongyang. After my election in 2020, however, I couldn’t do anything because the United Future Party, the predecessor of the current People Power Party (PPP), was a minority. Nevertheless, I continued raising issues over the pitiless repatriation whenever chances are available.

Inhumane behavior by a government should not be repeated. A nation has the duty to protect the sublime values of human rights. If the truth behind the deplorable death of a South Korean official and the tragic repatriation of two North Korean defectors is revealed, another conflict will sweep South Korea.

But it is much better to tell the truth than leaving the incident unattended. I hope the DP and the PPP cooperate for the grand cause of protecting human rights. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is closely watching how the truth will be handled in the South. The Yoon administration must demonstrate a strong determination to safeguard the integrity of the country without surrendering to any pressure from North Korea. 
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
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