U.S. Groups Accuse Seoul of Ignoring N.Korean Human Rights

  • By Cho Yi-jun, Kim Myong-song

    October 04, 2018 12:11

    U.S. rights groups have accused South Korea of deliberately turning a blind eye to North Korea's egregious rights abuses.

    Alex Gladstein at the Human Rights Foundation, told Radio Free Asia in an interview that the South Korean government showed it is more interested in improving relations with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un than it is in improving the North's human rights.

    Gladstein added it is "tragic and shocking" to see the South suppressing the human rights campaigns of North Korean defectors in the South. Greg Scarlatoiu, executive director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, also told RFA that it was "very regretful" to see activists in South Korea face "censorship and restrictions" and their budgets shaved. He added he expected some persecution but did not expect it to be this harsh.

    Some human rights groups here are saying that their funding from the government and private sector has dried up and they are even being targeted for investigation by prosecutors.

    North Korean defector Kang Chol-hwan, who founded the North Korea Strategy Center, said Tuesday, "The Unification Ministry provided funding aid until last year, but we got nothing this year. Rights groups that used to receive budget support from the previous administration are now targets of investigation."

    Scarlatoiu wrote a column in the Wall Street Journal accusing the South Korean government of "tacitly endorsing" North Korea's abuses. He said the Moon Jae-in administration cut subsidies by more than 90 percent and "stopped balloon launches and loudspeaker broadcasting across the demilitarized zone and has been censoring the content of USB thumb drives smuggled by activists into North Korea."

    The Human Rights Foundation was established in 2005 by filmmaker Thor Halvorssen and is headquartered in New York. It has hosted the annual Olso Freedom Forum in Norway since 2009, raising awareness of rights violations not only in North Korea, but also in China and other countries.

    The foundation contacted the South Korean and Taiwanese governments this year seeking to hold the forum in Asia but was disappointed by the lack of interest from Seoul.

    Gladstein said the Taiwanese government, by contrast, promised to fund the forum, so it will be held there next month.

    Civic groups in South Korea said the claims are "mostly true." The Beautiful Dream Concert, which has been held each year in South Korea to help teenage defectors, has not been held since Moon took office.

    Kim So-hee, the activist who organized the concert, said, "Businesses that used to provided millions of dollars in funding suddenly told us they were no longer able to do that. There were even rumors that businesses that supported us were investigated by prosecutors."

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