South Korea’s unification ministry stressed it is “inspecting” – not investigating – non-profit corporations under its jurisdiction, a statement Tuesday indicated, following North Korean anger at Seoul’s inability to prevent activist groups launching leaflets across the DMZ.
The Ministry of Unification’s (MOU) remarks – coming in the wake of their efforts to scrutinize local activist groups’ work – appeared to respond to a joint July 17 letter by local human rights organizations condemning the scrutiny as an effort to sustain “friendly relations with North Korea.’
“We would like to clarify that the administrative inspection is not to ‘investigate’ but to look into and examine,” an official from the MOU told NK News about the efforts on Tuesday.
According to the ministry, the term “office inspection” differs from having the power to conduct a compulsory investigation in that it requires the “cooperation” of the targeted organizations.
The clarification comes after the ministry announced plans last Thursday to conduct office inspections of multiple non-profit corporations under the jurisdiction of MOU, all of which are from the North Korean human rights and defector-resettlement sectors.
The decision drew criticism from home and abroad, with 21 organizations working on North Korea issues co-signing a letter protesting it the next day.
The letter called for “scrutiny on (the) South Korean government” for “stifling the North Korean human rights movement, freedom of speech and freedom of association…”.
“The reasons for which these 25 other organizations have been singled out have not been stated,” the letter said, claiming the scrutiny intended to be a “stifling of the entire North Korean human rights movement”.
However, the MOU said last week that initial inspections would start with 25 out of a total 95 organizations, those which “did not report operational performance (that) they are required to submit every year…or require additional fact-checks.”
As for the decision, the MOU said it had “taken the recent situation into consideration” – a reference to recent controversy over some groups’ activities regarding the dispatch of anti-DPRK leaflets across the border.
Asked about the legal grounds for the inspection request, a unification ministry official on Tuesday referred to Article 8 of the regulation on the Establishment and Supervision of Non-profit Corporations Under the Jurisdiction of the Ministry of Unification.
“Article 8 allows us to require those corporations to submit relevant documents, expense accounts, or other reference documents for the inspection and supervision of the corporates,” the official explained. “It also allows affiliated public officials to inspect office and asset situations.”
Responding to the rights groups’ joint letter that condemned the South Korean government for “silencing” the voices of North Korean escapees, the MOU official underscored that “it is not that only defector-run groups which are subject to this inspection.”
12 out of the 25 organizations being targeted for inspection are not run by North Korean defectors, the official said.
The scope of the MOU scrutiny appears to be expanding, however.
The ministry confirmed to NK News that in addition to the 25 corporations (법인) in the human rights and defector resettlement sectors, it will also start an examination of other “non-profit private organizations (비영리 민간단체)” registered in the same two sectors.
The ministry Monday reportedly sent notices requesting those organizations cooperate with the “inspection of registration requirements.”
These organizations have been asked to submit relevant documents to prove that they meet requirements stipulated in the Assistance for Non-Profit Private Organization Act.
The ministry may conduct phone calls or on-site visits depending on the result of the review of submitted documents, according to the MOU.
Edited by Chad O’Carroll
South Korea's unification ministry stressed it is "inspecting" – not investigating – non-profit corporations under its jurisdiction, a statement Tuesday indicated, following North Korean anger at Seoul's inability to prevent activist groups launching leaflets across the DMZ.
The Ministry of Unification's (MOU) remarks – coming in the wake of their efforts to scrutinize local activist groups' work – appeared to respond to a joint July 17 letter by local human rights organizations condemning the scrutiny as an effort to sustain "friendly relations with North Korea.'