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UN puts faith in Seoul’s leaflet ban

A UN flag. (123rf)
A UN flag. (123rf)
The UN secretary-general’s office said Monday that it believes South Korea will respect human rights when it implements the ban on the cross-border launching of anti-North Korea propaganda leaflets.

The leafleting is set to become a felony in March under legislation introduced by Seoul to protect residents near the border, in fear of retaliation by Pyongyang, which fired at balloons carrying leaflets, food and medicine in 2014. The two countries exchanged gunfire at the border.

“We trust that the Republic of Korea authorities will implement the law in full compliance with the Republic of Korea’s human rights obligations,” the office told Radio Free Asia, using the South’s official name. The office added that it was aware of the “national security concerns” behind the ban.

The UN office was speaking in response to Gyeonggi Province Gov. Lee Jae-myung, who said in a letter to the UN and US Congress on Friday that the ban is the minimum action necessary to protect residents of border towns and is a way to neutralize inter-Korean tension and improve ties.

Seoul is enforcing the ban to address the safety concerns of border towns that demand a halt to the leafleting, though critics accuse the government of infringing on the right to freedom of expression.

Meanwhile, US Rep. Chris Smith, who until recently co-chaired the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, restated plans to open a hearing to discuss the ban in early March at the latest. He said the ban violates the right to freedom of expression.

“Members of Congress should speak out freely where they perceive a violation. … And, I would add, Koreans and others should speak out freely where they see infringements on free speech rights in the United States as well,” Smith told RFA Monday.

Local news outlets said the hearing will look at not only the ban but also on the human rights situation in general, citing unidentified sources familiar with the matter.

“Issues other than the ban could be brought to the table, if necessary,” one source was quoted as saying. The hearing is expected to call in sitting and former State Department officials, human rights experts and North Korean defectors.

By Choi Si-young (
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Korea Herald daum