NEW YORK (May 24, 2021) — Last Friday, President Joseph Biden held his first summit with South Korean president Moon Jae-in. The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) calls on the two leaders to jointly prioritize addressing North Korean human rights, in both North and South Korea, as they collaborate on their foreign policies toward North Korea.
In June 2020, Kim Yo-jung, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un’s sister and head of the dictatorship’s propaganda department, warned the South Korean government to “tackle its evil propaganda balloons.” Six months later, in December 2020, the Moon administration passed the anti-leafleting law, which criminalized sending information from South Korea to North Korea by up to three years of imprisonment or a fine of up to 30 million won (approximately 27,000 USD). The law was enacted despite strong opposition from the minority South Korean People Power Party, whose members include North Korean defector politicians Ji Seong-ho and Tae Yong-ho.
“While the denuclearization of North Korea was addressed by presidents Moon and Biden in their summit last week, going forward, both administrations must find opportunities to focus on a high priority issue — the fundamental rights of North Korean citizens living in both North Korea and South Korea,” said HRF’s chief legal officer Roberto González. “The recent passage of the anti-leaflet law by the South Korean government is a setback in promoting North Korean human rights, and the Biden administration must pay close attention to this issue in its engagement with the Moon administration.”
At a press conference organized by HRF last week, academics, activists, and policymakers voiced their concerns about the anti-leaflet law. Among the participants was assemblyman Ji Seong-ho, who stated that, “the Moon Jae-in administration and the ruling party should wake up from the illusion that North Korea is a normal state, fully revise the peace process, and revoke the anti-leaflet law.” He also emphasized that, “the North Korean human rights issue is a matter of life or death, and it is not a political issue. […] [I]n both the U.S. and in South Korea, the governments should pursue and defend North Korean human rights.”
North Korean defectors were not the only ones who voiced concerns about the approach that the South Korean government has taken toward North Korea’s regime. Dr. Ethan Shin of the Seoul-based Transitional Justice Working Group stated that, “[I]n recent years, it has come to a point where South Korea also has become complicit in many of the abuses of human rights that are taking place in North Korea. And I think that is the context in which this, the recent anti-leaflet law, should be viewed […] — the culmination of this kind of policy of appeasing the North Korean government by the South Korean government.”
Under international law, North Korean citizens have the right to access information freely, and the people of South Korea have the right to freely send information to North Korea, or any other nation. Both rights are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights.
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.
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