The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK on Friday said he believes there are “inconsistencies” in South Korea’s narrative of the case of 12 high-profile North Korean defectors.
Speaking at a news conference in Seoul, Tomas Ojea Quintana said the issue of the group defection had been “brought to his attention” among other “contentious issues” on the Korean Peninsula during his trip to Seoul from 17 to 21 July.
“I have interacted with a wide range of the interlocutors here to gather as much information as possible on the situation of these women,” Ojea Quintana told assembled local and foreign media.
“Whereas I am pleased to learn that these women are safe and not held in detention, I see inconsistencies in the narrative concerning their cases, and will be following up with concerned governments.”
Ojea Quintana declined to give specifics on his doubts on the case, but said he would “further address this issue to the stakeholders and definitely try to avoid that the situation of these women becomes obstacles” to inter-Korean efforts.
“Here let me urge the two Koreas to avoid politicizing the situation of these women, and strictly focus on their interests, protection needs and the needs of their families.”
The restaurant workers, consisting of 12 female employees and one male manager, arrived in Seoul on April 7 last year via Malaysia and Thailand, having allegedly fled a North Korean government-run restaurant in the Chinese city of Ningbo.
Pyongyang has repeatedly insisted that the group was “abducted” and that their male manager colluded with South Korea in the plot.
North Korea has said that reunions between families separated by the Korean War will not be held until South Korea repatriates the 12 women – along with Kim Ryon Hui – who has said she wishes to return to the DPRK after, she claims, mistakenly defecting in 2011.
During his five-day visit to the South, the UN Special Rapporteur said he had met “North Koreans who wish to return to the DPRK”, saying he could understand their reasons for wanting to return and the “difficulties of the integration.”
“So my first recommendation in regard to this kind of integration to the authorities is to listen to people and focus on people,” Ojea Quintana told reporters.
“We are talking about livelihood of the specific people in the situation which is extremely complex between the North and the South where there is mounting escalations in the military side and the sanctions regime of the security council in New York implements resolutions.”
“There is no easy solution to this problem,” the UN Special Rapporteur said. “But we need to listen and we need to remember many of these people who came from the North and defect to the South they left behind their families and relatives.”
Ojea Quintana will report on his “monitoring and advocacy work over the past year in my forthcoming report” at the UN General Assembly in October.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the DPRK-run Korea Association for Human Rights Studies on Friday criticized the Special Rapporteur for meeting with defectors while in Seoul.
“(He) should not go about looking for the ‘testimonies’ of ‘defectors’ whose truth is no longer recognized by the world public,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported, quoting a spokesperson as saying.
“Instead, he should make a thorough investigation into the human rights violations in south Korea, the worst tundra of human rights in the world, and bring to justice those criminals who lured and kidnapped a group of female citizens of the DPRK to detain them in south Korea for over one year.”
In early May, North Korea expressed its willingness to “faithfully implement” international conventions on human rights, while casting doubt on the legitimacy of UN Special Rapporteurs.
The DPRK has not allowed Ojea Quintana to visit since his appointment by the UN Human Rights Council in March 2016.
UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of people with disabilities Catalina Devandas-Aguilar visited the North from 3 to 8 May as “the first visit ever to the DPRK by an independent expert designated by the Human Rights Council.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: UN Photo
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