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EDITORIAL | South Korean Report on Rights Abuses Must Rally Nations vs Pyongyang

The latest South Korean report on North Korea is based on some 1,600 specific cases of human rights violations, backed by the testimonies of 508 defectors.



South Korean report
A North Korea flag flutters next to a barbed wire fence at the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia March 9, 2017. (© REUTERS/Edgar Su)

For the first time ever, the government of South Korea has publicly released its North Korea Human Rights Report. A new South Korean report describes in detail numerous examples of horrific human rights violations by North Korea, including public executions and medical experiments on humans.

Human rights abuses such as those listed in the report are an outrage and show North Korea is a regime of terror that can never be tolerated.

South Korea
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol waives to the audience following his inauguration ceremony, May 10, 2022, in Seoul. (Kyodo)

Extremely Significant

It is based on South Korea's North Korean Human Rights Act that was enacted in 2016. Since 2017, Seoul has been compiling the report annually. However, the former Moon Jae In administration held the release of the reports, instead favoring maintaining an attitude of appeasement toward the North. 

Release of the 2023 report as an official document by the Yoon Suk-yeol government in Seoul makes it highly significant.

The Yoon administration has also positioned the abductions of South Korean citizens by North Korea as a key issue. Seoul has called on Tokyo to jointly establish a channel of dialogue for resolving the abductions by North Korea. Protecting the lives and physical safety of citizens is one of the top priorities of government. Cooperation between Japan and South Korea on tackling this is a must.

Inaction of Successive Governments

In the past, South Korea has played down the issue of abductions of its citizens by North Korea. In Japan, for example, the abductions of Japanese are a national issue. South Korea, meanwhile, has viewed the abductions of its citizens as an obstacle to promoting inter-Korean dialogue. The inaction of successive administrations in Seoul should be regarded by the South Korean people as an act of betrayal.

This report also details the reality of discriminatory treatment against South Korean victims of abductions, those who were captured during the war and their descendants in North Korea. They are forced to engage in unduly harsh work, in addition to being subjected to public executions and human experimentation.

Shinzo Abe memoir South Korean report
Moon Jae In entertains Kim Jong Un in rock star fashion in 2018.

Only for Scaring the Public 

On the matter of public executions, the report describes a 2015 case in which six teenagers were sentenced to death in Wonsan, eastern North Korea. They were caught watching videos from South Korea and smoking opium. Upon receiving their guilty verdicts, the adolescents were summarily executed by firing squad, according to the report. 

In another case, the report cites a six-month pregnant woman whose dancing at home was widely-circulated. She was sentenced to death on the grounds that her gesture of pointing at a portrait of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung was "ideologically problematic." 

Scaring the public seems to have been the purpose of the executions of the teenagers and the pregnant woman. By intimidating people, the authorities hoped to force obedience to the regime. There are no words to describe this situation other than horror. 

Former Western diplomats have also attested to the existence of public executions in North Korea. A former German ambassador was stationed in Pyongyang for eight years in total. He related the incident of traveling in North Korea and being stopped at the entrance to a small town for half an hour or so. The reason given was to carry out a public execution, he was reportedly told. 

South Korean report
South Korean President Yun Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida attend a Japan-South Korea summit on April 16 at the Prime Minister's Office. (© Sankei by Yasuhiro Yajima)

Tokyo, Seoul Must Work Together

Reports on the human rights situation in North Korea have been published in the past. The United Nations and other organizations documented the violations. 

But the report this time is written on an unprecedentedly large scale. It is based on around 1,600 specific cases of human rights violations. Moreover, it is backed by the testimonies of 508 North Korean defectors. 

The report is believed to include testimonies from defectors close to the upper echelons of the North Korean regime, which makes it particularly valuable. 

The Yoon administration plans to publish an English-language version of the report soon. Japan and South Korea need to do their utmost to unite the international community and take action to resolve these issues of human rights violations, as well as to beef up pressure on Pyongyang.


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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