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South’s Abstention Plans Anger Ex-POWs

Posted November. 14, 2005 03:07,   


A resolution on North Korea’s human rights, the first of its kind, is expected to be put to a vote before the UN General Assembly from November 17-23, but reports indicate the South Korean government is planning to abstain.

The Korean government abstained from voting when the resolution was put before the UN Commission on Human Rights. This shyness of the South Korean government about the North Korean human rights issue is drawing criticism from former soldiers who were abducted by North Korean troops and sought to return to South Korea, putting their lives on the line. “Abstaining from the vote is a cowardly act on the part of the South Korean government,” one veteran said.

Jo Chang-ho (74), who returned to South Korea in 1994, said, “The human rights issue in North Korea is an issue related to our compatriots. We have to take the lead on this issue, even if other countries sit still. However what’s going on is the opposite, and the government, which goes to great lengths to avoid dealing with this issue, makes me feel shameful.”

In North Korea, Jo worked in coal mines for 13 years. After he fell ill with silicosis, he and his family subsisted on a slash-and-burn field that his children toiled secretly on.

“For 13 years, I lived an inhuman life in a gulag,” he said. “Human rights abuse is at the heart of the North Korean issue.” He urged the government to make its position on this issue clear by participating in the vote.

He added, “I want the National Human Rights Commission of Korea to ask North Korea without reservation to improve its human rights.”

Lee (77), who defected from North Korea last May, said, “For the government to abstain from the vote is like saying to North Koreans: “Just wait for death helplessly.”

Lee, whose family still lives in the North, said in an outraged voice, “Twice or three times in a month, the DPRK Public Security Service officers searched my house. They even lifted lids of soy jars with flashlights in their hands to see what was inside.” He added, “In a sense, I did not leave North Korea, but I was driven out of the North by those who kept a close eye on every move I made. A total of 99% of former soldiers in North Korea are dying of lung diseases that they got from the mining,” and he urged, “The government should put forth more efforts to repatriate former armed forces members and those who were abducted by the North.”

Former armed forces members also raised their voices over the recent remarks made by Professor Kang Jung-gu of Dongkuk University, who stirred up controversy over national identity with praise for the North Korean system. In their view, the professor’s remarks came out due to ignorance of the situation in North Korea.

Yoo (78), who left the North in 2000, said, “In North Korea, workers and farmers live in miserable conditions, while those in power eat well and live well.” He added, “It is natural for North Koreans to praise the North Korean system as indoctrinated there because they don’t know the reality of South Korea well. However, I don’t understand why a South Korean intellectual spoke up for the North.”

Jang Moo-hwan (79), who returned to the South 45 years after being taken prisoner of war in July 1953 while fighting for the South, said, “If Professor Kang goes to the North and experiences the real North, he would never be able to say something like that.”

On November 2, 25 member countries of the European Union introduced a resolution before the UN General Assembly saying, “In North Korea, wide-ranging human rights abuses such as torture, public executions, and illegal detention are going on. North Korean defectors who are caught and repatriated to the North against their will are tortured or punished with death.”