The following is the text, translated into English, of Hwang In-cheol’s letter to Marzuki Darusman, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in North Korea.
Dear Mr. Marzuki Darusman,
I am asking for your help as a last resort out of desperation for the repatriation of my father.
I am the son of Mr. Hwang Won, who was hijacked by North Korean spies on December 11, 1969, on the way to a business trip.
Please allow me to attend the panel talks that you will be leading in Geneva this September, where I would be able to attend to ask the North Korean government for the repatriation of my father.
I do not remember my father’s face as he was kidnapped when I was two years old. Even so, I still have not forgotten my father and I am still trying to get my father back.
Every time I miss my father, I look up at the moon and wonder if he will be looking at the same sky I am looking at. How my father would be faring without being able to meet his beloved wife and his two year-old and less-than-a-year-old children he left behind.
Even microscopic beings have a tendency to return home when it is time to return and, as a human being, imagine how frustrating it must be to be held hostage for no reason.
I cannot express how deeply sorrowful I am.
Mr. Rapporteur, please help my father, who was forcefully detained, to return home. He was singing “Gagopa” (“I Want to Return Home,” a popular traditional song in Korea that describes one’s desires to return to the South) and demanded his return because he missed his family. He has not been able to express his own free will for 46 years.
There is no reason on this earth for my father to be detained and it is even stranger that he still has not been able to come back.
Mr. Marzuki Darusman, my father’s name is Hwang Won and he worked as a producer at MBC (the South Korean Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation) and got on the plane when I was two, to attend a business meeting.
On December 11, 1969, North Korean spies hijacked YS-11, a flight heading to what is now the Gimpo International Airport in the skies of Daegwallyeong over South Korea’s Taebaek Mountains but, due to intense protests from the international community, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea promised on February 4, 1970 to return all passengers. On February 14, 1970, they broke their promise and only returned 39 out of the 50 passengers.
I have found out why my father would not be among the 39 to return home.
My father, who was 32 at the time, believed that he would be able to return home because of international laws and human rights accords and, while he was undergoing ideological education, he refuted all of the theories of communism. Due to his actions, he was taken away for two weeks and tortured mercilessly.
My father continued to protest for his return on January 1, 1970 while singing “I Want to Return Home.” He was taken to a place that no one knew about and that was the last time any of the 39 returned passengers saw my father.
The International Committee of the Red Cross strongly urged for my father’s return, according to the testimony of the 39 repatriated passengers, but the North Korean government argued that he entered North Korea of his free will.
The International Red Cross asked to confirm if he had willingly entered the DPRK through a third party but North Korea refused, saying that “this is our republic’s issue and the Red Cross should not get involved.”
Under the 17th ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) meeting in 1970, in Resolution A17-8, all the passengers and flight staff that can travel should be allowed to continue their trip and, on September 9, 1970, in the United Nations Security Council Resolution 286, they resolved to free all flight staff and passengers that were detained due to disturbances in the international service line.
The 25th United Nations General Assembly in 1970 declared that the unjust disturbance of the freedom of travel via air should be condemned.
A UN resolution denouncing the illegal seizure of the aircraft passed unanimously but, after 46 years, my father still has not been able to return home due to North Korea’s false claims and anti-humanitarian actions.
My family has been waiting eagerly for my father’s return and MBC put him on a leave of absence instead of retiring him so that he can return to work once he gets back.
Due to the leave of absence, our family has experienced serious hardships, as this is an unpaid leave, but we have still been hopeful for his return.
Every time I asked about my father as a child, my mother would say that he was on a business trip in the U.S. and would return at Christmas
After this terrible incident, my mother suffered from severe depression and stress and started losing her mind. Her biggest problem was that she could not control her anger and, once she became agitated, she turned into a different person who could not socialize with other people and started to live in her own world.
My mother’s violent tendencies also applied to me. Once my mother was agitated, she would beat me until I fainted and I was taken to the hospital a number of times. It was hard for me as a young child to live with my mother.
Due to these circumstances, I waited even more desperately for my father’s return.
Every time I asked about my father as a child, my mother would say that he was on a business trip in the U.S. and would return at Christmas.
Every year, I waited for Christmas to come, wondering what kinds of presents he would bring and looked forward to telling my father about how my mother mistreated me.
When I turned 10 my uncle, saying I needed to know, told me about my dad’s abduction to North Korea. Even though I was a little child, I was disappointed and realized that it would be hard to meet my dad.
In the third Red Cross meeting of families separated by the inter-Korean division in 2001, stewardess Sung Kyung-hui, who was kidnapped along with my father, was reunited with her family. Through the reunion between Jeong Kyung-sook, one of the kidnapped stewardesses, and her mother, I heard about the captain and co-pilot’s survival and heard that other passengers who were unable to return are alive somewhere as well.
South Korean society has completely forgotten about the hijacking of the KAL airplane
After hearing this news, I decided that I had to meet my father and have tried everything I could to do so.
But South Korean society has completely forgotten about the hijacking of the KAL airplane and I have struggled to make the public remember this incident.
Through the process of getting the KAL hijacking story out, I faced negative responses, saying that this is in the past and having people ask, “What does this have to do with us?” and making cutting remarks such as “There is nothing you can do because this is a diplomatic issue.”
North Korea sent a letter in June 2006 via the International Red Cross saying that it is impossible to check whether my father is alive or not.
I went to the Ministry of Unification and asked for a follow-up plan and the ministry responded that they do not have any other plans.
Since then, I have looked for other measures to find my father. On June 17, 2010, I was finally able to register my father to the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID). I waited for a reply from the North Korean government through the UN and, through my efforts, I was finally able to send a letter to the North Korean Red Cross bearing the signature of the president of the Korean Red Cross Society in March 2011.
On October 2011, North Korea replied saying that the people that have not returned to the South are staying in North Korea of their own free will and it is impossible to check whether they are alive or not.
In May 2012, I received a reply, with some difficulty, from North Korea through the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance. They replied saying that my father’s case does not fall under the category of enforced or involuntary disappearances and this is not a humanitarian issue that WGEID should be dealing with. They continued to say that this is a political scheme set up by the hostile powers.
These false replies are the key to the repatriation of my father.
Through these replies, North Korea has to face this historical incident and prove to the international community as to why the case involving my father is not a case of forced disappearance even though he was forcefully abducted through the hijacking of the KAL.
And why would this case not fall under humanitarian causes, even though my father could not express his free will due to the refusal of North Korea’s regime? And why do they continue to forcibly detain my father, who requested to return home to meet his family?
I have asked the Ministry of Unification a number of times for a rebuttal to the answers that North Korea sent, but I cannot get any help from the South Korean government because they continue to respond with silence.
I have believed the response from the Ministry of Unification that there are no other ways to find my father for 14 years and have tried to come up with a different way to rescue my father all by myself.
During this process, I have become a delinquent borrower, unable to have any financial transactions and continued my efforts by working as a daily laborer.
Now I do not have any time or money left.
I do not have time because I have to continue working as a daily laborer to feed my mother and my family, and because 46 years have passed since my father’s abduction, and we are afraid to hear that my father could have passed away due to his old age.
I do not wish to meet my father as a corpse. Please help me meet my dad alive in person.
Mr. Rapporteur, isn’t it a normal process for my father to return home, who cried to return to his family, considering the resolutions that were passed during that time regarding the hijacking of the KAL plane?
I can hear my father crying and begging to return home. I want to live like a normal person, feeling my dad’s warmth and his love instead of looking at the moon and wondering if he is still alive. Mr. Marzuki Darusman, I beg for your help in hopes that I will be able to see my father alive.
All images courtesy of Hwang In-cheol
Translation by Ina Yoon
Editing by Rob York
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