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[Editorial] Due attention

UN resolution on NK rights violations addresses plight of South Korean POWs

A draft resolution condemning North Korea’s dire human rights situation was recently submitted to the UN’s Third Committee for approval. If passed, it will be put to a vote at the UN General Assembly in mid-December.

South Korea excluded itself from a list of 35 co-sponsors of the resolution, though it plans to join the document’s adoption by consensus.

President Moon Jae-in’s government has taken such a lukewarm position with regard to a UN resolution on human suffering in the North for three consecutive years. The liberal Moon administration, which came to office in 2017, has been criticized for sidelining the issue of North Korea’s human rights violations to avoid angering Pyongyang in the course of its push for inter-Korean reconciliation.

North Korea has bristled at international accusations of human rights violations, calling them an attempt to topple its regime. It slammed the EU this week for the bloc’s leading role in drafting the UN resolution, denouncing the move as an act of hostility based on “false and fabricated” documents.

Seoul’s failure to co-sponsor this year’s UN resolution has drawn more criticism here as it addresses the issue of the North’s persecution of South Korean prisoners of war for the first time. A phrase of the draft resolution unveiled last week by the UN committee expresses concerns over the persistent rights violations against prisoners of war who have not been repatriated to the South and their descendants.

About 80,000 South Korean soldiers are thought to have been captured by the North or have gone missing during the 1950-53 Korean War.

Of them, only 8,300 were repatriated to the South after the war, which ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. Most of South Korean POWs detained in the North are believed to have been subjected to forced labor and other rights violations.

Since 1994, only 80 South Korean POWs fled the North to return home, whether on their own or with the assistance of human rights groups.

Seoul has made little effort to grasp the number of surviving South Korean prisoners of war in the North and ensure their repatriation to the South.

Needless to say, it is the most important obligation of a government to protect the lives and human rights of its people.

It would be tantamount to the abandonment of the role and responsibility of a nation if the government turns a blind eye to the suffering of South Korean POWs in the North while neglecting efforts to bring them home.

The Moon administration seems preoccupied with achieving the declaration of a formal end to the Korean War as part of efforts to put Moon’s peace agenda on track before his five-year tenure ends in May. During his speech at the UN in September, Moon renewed his calls for the end-of-war declaration, while avoiding addressing North Korea’s human rights conditions.

Such a peace initiative just rings hollow when the Moon government ignores the suffering of South Korean POWs and other human disasters in the North.

Whoever will take over from Moon should ensure that his government will co-sponsor with other democracies a UN resolution calling for the improvement in the North’s human rights situation and strive for the repatriation of South Korean POWs.

The country should not swing in its stance on the North Korean human rights issues depending on a change of government. It is important to maintain a universal and consistent position on the issues in line with international viewpoints.

South Korea hosted an annual ceremony Thursday to commemorate the sacrifices of fallen foreign troops who fought under the UN flag during the Korean War. A minute of silence was observed in remembrance of their sacrifices during the “Turn Toward Busan” ceremony, which was first held in 2007 following a suggestion from a Canadian veteran of the Korean War at the UN Memorial Cemetery in the southeastern port city of Busan.

As much in our mind as the noble sacrifices of fallen soldiers should be the ongoing plight of South Korean POWs and their offspring under the oppressive regime in the North.

By Korea Herald (khnews@heraldcorp.com)
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