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Dr. Tae-Ung Baik Visits NKHR Offices
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2016-02-22 11:30:53
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Dr. Tae-Ung Baik Visits NKHR Offices

Written by Cait Cronin, NKHR Intern

 

On January 10, 2016, Dr. Tae-Ung Baik, 2015 appointee to the UN Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, visited the NKHR offices to meet the families of several South Korean abductees by the North Korean government. Originally from South Korea and currently an associate professor at the University of Hawaii’s William S. Richardson School of Law, Dr. Baik spent several hours listening to the victims’ relatives recount their stories. He also participated in an informal discussion on various strategies the Working Group could use to solve the ongoing issue of forced disappearances.

 

The relatives of three abductees attended the meeting: Jangho Nam, son of Jeong-yeol Nam, whose fishing boat drifted northward in 1972 after its engine lost power; Inchul Hwang, son of Won Hwang, an MBC producer and passenger on KAL Flight 71 that was hijacked across the 38th parallel by a North Korean agent in 1969; and Taewook Kim, mother of student Minkyo Lee who, along with a friend, was kidnapped in 1977 by a North Korean spy during a summer trip to Hongdo Island in the south. Additionally, the meeting was also attended by Jaegeun Lee, a fisherman who himself was abducted from the Yellow Sea in 1970 but managed to escape from North Korea in 2000. Considered as valuable by the regime, both Mr. Minkyo Lee and Mr. Jaegeun Lee were chosen to aid acts of espionage in North Korea; the former in a teaching capacity, training future spies on lifestyles and attitudes in South Korea, and the latter was trained directly for maritime infiltration and assassinations.

 

The UN Working Group receives information from NKHR to compile written testimonies on these and other abductions, and then submits those to the North Korean government. However, the relatives of South Korean abductees have regularly faced challenges in gaining recognition and attention for the issue from both the South and North Korean governments. During the time of the abductions, anyone in South Korea with ties to the Northern communist regime was viewed with suspicion, and abductees were widely considered to be traitors rather than victims. As government policy changed toward a “Sunshine Policy” with North Korea under President Kim Dae-Jung in the late 1990s, pursuing smooth relations was prioritized over finding a solution to the problem of forced disappearances. For its part, the North Korean government has been inconsistent in its admission of the abductions, sometimes reporting victims as deceased to relatives applying for regularly-scheduled reunification meetings, yet other times denying that the abductions had even occurred.

 

For the victims and their families, who rarely have the opportunity to communicate their stories to the international community in their native language, the January 10 meeting with Dr. Baik brought a strong sense of gratification. Deeply moved by the experiences he heard, Dr. Baik expressed the need to approach the abduction issue comprehensively, rather than viewing it as simply a matter of locating individual abductees. Finding a future solution to such a complicated problem will require a clear and accurate step-by-step process, he asserted, particularly since the North Korean government has avoided addressing the forced disappearances. Promising to discuss the matter internally, Dr. Baik emphasized the need for the UN Working Group to combine efforts with similar agencies, particularly those with work relating to historical issues, moving forward.