Joint Statement on Deportation of Two North Korean Fishermen by 21 Human Rights and Civil Society Organizations for North Korean Human Rights
Nov. 11, 2019 (Seoul)
The South Korean government has made a shameful decision that should warrant significant criticism from international society. On November 7, 2019, the Ministry of Unification (MOU) of South Korea belatedly briefed the press about its decision of November 2 to “deport” two North Korean fishermen, who crossed the maritime border in the East Sea via the truce village of Panmunjom. The press briefing came after the deportation process was complete. When the decision became controversial, the MOU justified its decision by revealing that a joint investigation within the government found enough evidence to suspect that the two fugitives were men in their 20s and were criminals who murdered 16 of their fellow sailors on a squid fishing boat while operating in the East Sea before escaping.
However, the South Korean government rushed to a decision with a three-day inquiry, which cannot be long and exhaustive enough to justify an irreversible decision about human lives. Instead of showing clear-cut, hard evidence to prove the murders it alleges, the South Korean government explained that the allegations have been substantiated by an abundance of ‘testimonies,’ ‘circumstantial evidence,’ and ‘information’ which details cannot fully be disclosed. Yet, an enquiry conducted and limited by an intelligence agency, which is not a judicial organ, cannot claim witness testimony or admissions as evidence, nor should such material be the justification for involuntary deportation. Furthermore, one cannot entirely rule out the possibility that the ‘circumstantial evidence’ referred to by the government is just arbitrary speculation or extrapolation. Considering that the South Korean Constitution stipulates that its national territory includes the entirety of the Peninsula, and that all citizens enjoy the right to prompt assistance of counsel, the South Korean government should at least have provided the deported with a lawyer and allowed them to defend themselves in court in accordance with the principles of due process.
South Korea signed the United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT) in 1995, and Article 3 of the UNCAT prohibits State Parties from expelling, returning, or extraditing a person to another state that practices torture. In addition, as a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) since 1990, South Korea has an obligation to ensure its citizens to enjoy the rights to life, to a fair trial, freedom of movement, and freedom from torture.
Despite the fact that the MOU has been justifying its rationale for the deportation based on Article 9 of the North Korean Refugees Protection and Settlement Support Act (Criteria for Protection Decision), the article does not, in fact, address deportation. It only stipulates that “persons may not be designated as persons eligible for protection.” Also, it is hard to imagine such an arbitrary deportation without due process, with only three to four days of investigations and without a fair trial, in the case of a migrant or refugee from third country with a better human rights situation compared to North Korea, who is similarly accused of murder in the third country. Such a blatant application of double standards calls into question South Korea’s status as a civilized country and its interest in upholding and respecting international human rights standards.
Perhaps even more despicable would be the baseless fearmongering that the South Korean government employed to manipulate public opinion. The government has been claiming that the deportation of these fishermen was necessary for the national security and the safety of the South Korean people. If the government were truly concerned about the safety of its citizens based only on “testimony” and “circumstantial evidence”, the investigation should have been conducted in a more transparent and responsible manner within the full investigation period permitted by law, or with a strict application of the domestic law and due process to the investigation and trial. However, by irresponsibly deporting these fishermen back to the DPRK after denying their requests for asylum, the South Korean government abandoned its own legitimate territorial jurisdiction, implicitly recognizing the justice system in the DPRK that is not just by any means. Since no agreement regarding extradition has ever been reached between the two Koreas, and there is no agreed legal grounds and process for such, involuntary deportation to North Korea is not legally justifiable.
For this reason, the government authorities and officials who directed, or were involved in the illegal deportation of the two fishermen should not be exempt from accountability for North Korean human rights. Moreover, the South Korean government must bear the responsibility of monitoring how North Korea treats these two fishermen. Since the haste of the deportation increased the scope of the human rights issue, we also urge the South Korean government to be transparent in its future actions regarding this matter, and to make an official request to the DPRK to disclose the post-deportation status of the two fishermen. We, the signatories, openly ask for accountability from the South Korean government and from those who were involved in the deportation process.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea must make diligent efforts on its part to ensure the safety of the deported fishermen. The DPRK must inform the international community of the current circumstances and future plans for the deported. It must be transparent in its treatment of the deported and allow international society to identify whether it is treating them in compliance with international human rights standards. The DPRK must be discouraged from inflicting any type of cruelty on the deported such as torture, beating, and other degrading treatment. The DPRK must make sure no one shall be subject to harsh punishment such as a death sentence. The DPRK must remind itself of the worldwide concerns regarding the human rights situation in its territory and the duties it is subject to, according to the international human rights treaties the state has signed.
Lastly, we, the signatories, call upon the United Nations and Member States to join in concerted efforts to express deep concern over this deportation, and urge the South Korean National Assembly and its lawmakers to consider launching an inquiry into the questionable deportation process.
20 Signatory Organizations (listed by date joined)
Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights (NKHR) | 북한인권시민연합
Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) | 북한인권위원회(미국)
Improving North Korean Human Rights Center (INKHR) |북한인권증진센터
Justice For North Korea (JFNK) | 북한정의연대
Korean War Abductees’ Family Union (KWAFU) | 6.25전쟁납북인사가족협의회
Lawyers for Human Rights and Unification of Korea | 한반도 인권과 통일을 위한 변호사모임
Network for North Korean Human Rights and Democracy (NKnet) | 북한민주화네트워크
NK Watch |엔케이워치
No Chain for North Korea | 노체인
North Korea Strategy Center (NKSC) | 북한전략센터
Now Action & Unity for Human Rights (NAUH) | 나우
Open North Korea (ONK) | 열린북한
People for Successful Corean Reunification (PSCORE) | 성공적인 통일을 만들어가는 사람들
South and North Development (SAND) | 샌드연구소
Stepping Stones | 징검다리
Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG) | 전환기정의워킹그룹
Unification Academy | 통일아카데미
Unification Media Group (UMG) | 국민통일방송
Unification Strategy Institution | (USI)통일전략연구소
1969 KAL Abductees’ Families Association | 1969년 KAL기 납치피해가족회