August 08, 2018 12:56
North Korean defector groups and the National Human Rights Commission are at loggerheads over the commission's decision to investigate the murky defection of a group of North Korean restaurant workers from China.
The commission is investigating claims that the North Korean women were duped into defecting from the restaurant in Ningbo, China to South Korea in 2016.
One leader of a defectors' group accused a member of the commission of making inappropriate remarks.
Defector Ji Seong-ho, who was famously invited to U.S. President Donald Trump's State of the Union address earlier this year, called a press conference on Tuesday in front of the NHRC's office in downtown Seoul.
"I met [lead investigator] Cho Young-sun of the NHRC on Monday and heard devastating news. During interviews, the North Korean restaurant workers voiced concerns over possible harm to their family if their identities and motives are revealed, and Cho told them the NHRC does not have time to worry about such things," Ji said.
"What is the purpose of the NHRC?"
The NHRC in a statement denied Cho said any such thing. "In fact Cho sympathized with defectors who refused to cooperate with the interview due to fears of reprisals against their family members and there was no coercion," it said.
The commission decided to investigate after the UN special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, Tomás Ojea Quintana, suggested there was something fishy about the defection and some of the women told him they had been duped.
The restaurant manager has made contradictory statements to the media, some of them to the effect that he was lured with promises by South Korea's National Intelligence Service.
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