The National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) will petition the UN to investigate the cases of six South Korean detainees in North Korea, the commission confirmed to NK News on Tuesday.
The state-funded but independent human rights watchdog held a general meeting on Monday and agreed “on measures to secure the safety of citizens of the Republic of Korea detained in North Korea,” according to the organization’s website.
Seoul’s Ministry of Unification (MOU) has said that six South Koreans are currently being held against their will in North Korea – a statistic that does not include so-called “redefectors” who have returned to the North.
Among the known detainees are Christian missionaries Kim Jung-wook, who was detained in October 2013, and Kim Kook-kie and Choi Chun-kil, who have been held in captivity since 2014.
The rest are believed to be defectors who have been forcibly returned to the North. One is known to be Ko Hyon-chol, whose arrest in the DPRK was announced last July.
The NHRCK says it hopes to file petitions to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) and the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) this month.
The watchdog will also submit a petition to UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK Tomas Ojea Quintana.
“We are facing the situation that we can’t even confirm the life and death of South Koreans detained in North Korea,” a press office at the NHRCK – who wished to remain anonymous – told NK News.
The South Korean government has had difficulties gathering information about the detainees, they added.
“There is no way for the government to investigate their actual conditions,” they said. “So we plan to petition the UN Special Rapporteur and working groups with the aim to take the initiative in starting the investigation over their real states and in resolving the issue with the attention from the international community.”
Hong Seong-phil, an associate professor at Yonsei Law School, said that he expected the UN to respond positively to the proposal.
“The human rights situation in North Korea has been seriously considered at the international level,” Hong, who is also a member of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, told NK News. “So, I am expecting that the UN will accept actively.”
The death of Otto Warmbier in June sparked renewed concern in the South for the six South Korean citizens in the country.
With the release of the Canadian citizen the Reverand Lim Hyeon-soo in August, three American citizens also remain in custody in North Korea.
The unification ministry said on July 21 that the South Korean government had twice tried to send family letters to detainees via the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in the DPRK, as part of efforts to identify their whereabouts.
“We also send a message to the North that calls for the repatriation of our detained people four times during the inter-Korean talks as well as through various channels including diplomatic one,” Lee Duk-haeng, spokesperson for the MOU at the time, told media.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: Ministry of National Defense (MND)
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