U.S. Lawmaker Demands Probe of Repatriation of N.Korean Fishermen

  • By Kim Jin-myung

    June 28, 2022 12:51

    U.S. Representative Christopher Smith is demanding a "thorough audit" of the hasty repatriation of North Korean fishermen who washed up in South Korea in 2019.

    Smith has convened a hearing of the House of Representatives' Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on the issue of North Korean defectors.

    Shin Hee-seok, a legal expert at the Transitional Justice Working Group, described to the commission how two North Koreans who had arrived in South Korea by sea and were blindfolded and driven to a location unknown to them under the escort of South Korean police in November 2019.

    "Although the fishermen wished to defect to South Korea in handwritten statements, they were blindfolded and handed over to North Korea. When their blindfolds were finally removed before the repatriation, the fishermen reportedly collapsed to their knees in terror."

    "Standing before the two North Korean escapees were North Korean officials who would take them into custody," he added.

    The Moon Jae-in administration here at the time was desperate to appease North Korea after a flurry of ultimately fruitless summits.

    Smith told the Chosun Ilbo, "It is absolutely a breach of the spirit that animates the principle of non-refoulement to send people back into harm's way. I could just imagine the terror that they felt when the blindfolds were removed... If they had done anything wrong, then there should be a process for addressing that, but they should not be refouled against their will."

    President Yoon Suk-yeol has mentioned the possibility of an investigation into the incident.

    "Regardless of the domestic political implications of this in Korea, I would think that the people would want to demand accountability -- how did this happen, who gave the order, and why," Smith said. "In my opinion, I think there should be a thorough audit, and any necessary policy changes made."

    "I don't think this should have happened, certainly not in a country that has aspirations to leadership in the field of human rights, which is one of the reasons I was so critical of former President Moon, because he was previously a human rights activist and lawyer."

    "President Moon was a real disappointment... and sought to placate despots like Kim Jong-un and Xi Jinping."

    Meanwhile, Shin also reminded the commission of the murky case of a South Korea fisheries official who was brutally murdered by North Korean soldiers while the South Korean Navy looked on. "When the North Korean Navy executed Lee Dae-jun, an unarmed South Korean citizen that drifted into North Korean-controlled waters, reportedly as part of its brutal COVID-19 quarantine measure in September 2020, the Moon administration did its best to direct the blame away from Pyongyang, even making an [implausible] claim that he tried to defect to North Korea."

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