Actions speak louder than words
China repatriated 600 North Koreans detained in Jilin and Liaoning provinces on Monday. In a legislative audit of the South's Ministry of Unification Wednesday, Minister Kim Yung-ho said, "Our ministry anticipated that an incident like this would happen shortly after the Hangzhou Asian Games," adding, "They will have a tough time when they return."
China before would arrest North Korean defectors, house them in separate detention centers and then hand them over to North Korea. But Beijing stopped it for more than three years after North Korea shut its borders with China to block the spread of the coronavirus. But China resumed the practice at different places along the border starting Oct. 9.
North Korean authorities call defectors "thrashes" and "betrayers." In 1996, when Hwang Jang-yop, then-secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of North Korea, defected to South Korea, Pyongyang branded him a "coward." After repatriation, North Koreans must undergo thorough investigations, suffer extreme torture and then go to labor or prison camps. The United Nations or other international communities regard the North's treatment of the defectors as the country's barometer of human rights.
The conservative Yoon Suk Yeol administration said it would accommodate all North Korean defectors overseas. It even published a white paper on North Korean human rights last year. That's not all. The Unification Ministry cut 28 percent of the inter-Korean cooperation fund from next year's budget while increasing the budget for humanitarian support for North Korea to 19.36 billion won ($14.4 million), a whopping 187.5 percent hike from this year. The ministry also established an office handling North Korean human rights and humanitarian issues. The Foreign Ministry actively participates in international organizations' monitoring of human rights in the North.
Regrettably, the government was sitting on its hands even when China sent the North Koreans back. Even given the timing — a day before the anniversary of the Workers' Party of North Korea on Oct. 10 — the government must reflect on what it did until the forced repatriation.
In July 2004, the Roh Moo-hyun administration brought 460 North Korean defectors staying in Vietnam to Seoul. In the case of Hwang's defection from China, the government showed diplomatic skills by secretly bringing him via the Philippines to avoid any possible diplomatic friction with Beijing.
North Korean human rights cannot be improved by words. If words come first, it may jeopardize the defectors by helping North Korea, China and Russia consolidate their cooperation on the issue. The government must find out exactly what went wrong. North Korea also must treat defectors according to international standards.
Source: Yonhap News Agency