The United Nations’ envoy on North Korean human rights Friday promised to work toward the return of a Korean family believed to be held in the communist country, saying the case highlights the urgency of resolving abductions by the North.
Thousands of South Koreans, including lawmakers and human rights activists, have mounted calls at home and abroad for the return of Shin Sook-ja and her two daughters, who were reportedly being held at a prison camp in North Korea, at least until recently.
Shin’s husband, Oh Kil-nam, has been at the forefront of the campaign, after fleeing the repressive regime on his own in 1986.
The 69-year-old retired economist defected to North Korea in 1985, while studying in West Germany, and was sent to a North Korean mountain area along with his family for brain-washing.
U.N. Special Rapporteur Marzuki Darusman speaks during a press conference in Seoul on Friday. (Yonhap News)
U.N. Special Rapporteur Marzuki Darusman, who is in Seoul to gather information on the North’s human rights situation, said he met with Oh earlier this week and empathized with his plight.
“Mr. Oh Kil-nam expressed his wish that he would be able to know whether his family is still alive and where they would be able to be located if so,” Darusman told reporters at a press conference as he wrapped up his five-day visit. “That would be the immediate issue to be addressed on this matter.”
Some 500 South Koreans are believed to be held in the North against their will, he said.
“The case of Mr. Oh Kil-nam is an emblematic case that illustrates the seriousness and magnitude of the problem, and reminds us of the need to resolve the issue of abduction urgently.”
During his stay here, Darusman said he discussed the issue with South Korean government officials, diplomats, the country’s human rights watchdog and non-governmental organizations.
“This would be the first time that this case has been presented to the special rapporteur. The immediate step would be to collect as much information as possible regarding the case (and) subsequently engage all U.N. human rights mechanisms to address the matter,” he said.
North Korea has long been accused of a wide range of human rights abuses, including torture, public executions and holding tens of thousands of political prisoners. Pyongyang views it as a U.S-led attempt to topple its regime.
Darusman said Pyongyang has rejected his repeated requests to visit the country and meet with its representatives to the U.N. in New York and Geneva.
In another move to put pressure on Pyongyang, the human rights panel of the U.N. General Assembly on Monday adopted a resolution condemning the North’s human rights abuses.
The special rapporteur said he will submit a report on North Korea’s human rights situation to the U.N. Human Rights Council next March, based on the results of his trip to Seoul and a visit to Japan in January.