Ten former high-ranking U.S. officials have decided to send a protest letter to South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Wednesday (local time), urging Seoul to stop its crackdown on human rights groups led by North Korean defectors. Among those who signed the letter led by Suzanne Scholte, American human rights activist and the president of the Defense Forum Foundation, are key figures from the ruling Republican Party and opposition Democratic Party. This reflects the widespread U.S. public opinion that finds Seoul’s crackdown uncomfortable.
According to a list obtained by The Dong-A Ilbo, key figures who expressed their support in the joint letter include Richard Allen, former National Security Advisor to President Ronald Reagan who stopped the execution of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung; Roberta Cohen, deputy assistant secretary of State for Human Rights under the Jimmy Carter administration; and Gare Smith, principal deputy assistant secretary in the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor under the Bill Clinton administration. Other figures include former U.S. President George W. Bush and former officials under the Barack Obama administration.
In a phone interview with The Dong-A Ilbo on Tuesday, Scholte said more people will join the list as citizens and human rights groups at home and aboard have expressed their willingness to sign the letter. Scholte added that it is unusual to have a bipartisan voice on a certain issue in this period of severe political division in the U.S.
In particular, Richard Allen, former National Security Advisor to President Ronald Reagan, is thought to have played a key role in saving Kim Dae-jung’s life in early 1981 by repeatedly conveying Washington’s position that it strongly opposes the execution of Kim. Despite the transition of power from the Democratic Carter administration to Republican Reagan administration at that time, the two administrations worked together to save Kim Dae-jung’s life. Considering this, the protest letter is a reflection of the widespread awareness in the U.S. political circle that inactions on North Korea’s human rights violations by human rights lawyer-turned-president Moon Jae-in is weakening North Korean human rights movement.
Former U.S. high-ranking officials also slammed South Korea’s Unification Ministry for inspecting 25 human rights groups led by North Korean defectors and reviewing 64 North Korea-related non-profit groups to find out if they meet registration requirements. The former officials wrote in the letter that the South Korean government’s investigation is a cold threat that has been made because the groups are working on human rights issues in North Korea. They pointed out that the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (COI) has advised to support non-government organizations to improve human rights situation in North Korea, calling on Seoul to support North Korea-related human rights group instead of cracking down on them.
By Jung-Ahn Kim, Washington correspondent