Empty human rights envoy position is finally filled
Lee received her letter of appointment from Foreign Minister Park Jin, who presented it on the president’s behalf.
“I expect Ambassador Lee’s rich scholarly work and international experience will be a great asset on the job,” Park was quoted as saying by his ministry.
He asked for Lee's “active involvement” in coordinating international efforts to address human rights violations in the North and to encourage the regime to address them.
In the meeting, Lee said that she feels a "grave responsibility" to improve the human rights situation in the North and pledged to work closely with partners worldwide to improve the lives of North Koreans, according to the Foreign Ministry.
The position of special envoy on North Korean human rights has been empty since the first such ambassador, Lee Jung-hoon, left the post in September 2017.
The position was created in 2016 when the North Korean Human Rights Act was passed.
The Yoon Suk-yeol administration has stressed from its inauguration in May the importance of human rights in North Korea, a topic that was largely avoided by the Moon Jae-in administration.
In a meeting with members of the foreign press in Seoul on Wednesday, Park said Seoul will be taking a stronger stance on human rights violations in the North in coming years.
“The human rights situation in the North is not none of our business, it should be treated very much as our own business,” Park told members of the Seoul Foreign Correspondents' Club at the Korea Press Center. “The Republic of Korea can make a huge difference for North Koreans so they can enjoy basic human rights and improve their quality of life.”
Park said that the Yoon administration will “actively participate” in international discussions of North Korean human rights, including in drafting and joining UN resolutions condemning North Korea human rights violations.
On the controversial issue of the repatriation of two North Korean fishermen in 2019, Park said that it was an incident “that should never be repeated.”
Lee also spoke against the decision Thursday.
“I think the [footage] represents well what was happening at the time,” Lee said, referring to recently released video from November 2019 when two North Korean fishermen were repatriated to North Korea through Panmunjom.
The four-minute video, released to reporters last week, showed the fishermen protesting and shouting as they were handed over to North Korean officials.
“Forced repatriation without due process violates both international and domestic laws,” Lee said.
Lee’s tenure is set for a year, during which time she will coordinate with governments, international organizations and civic groups to bring global attention to North Korean human rights.
BY ESTHER CHUNG [email@example.com]