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Watchdog wrong to drop probe of 2019 forced return of two North Koreans: court

The International Parliamentarians’ Coalition for North Korean Refugees and Human Rights on Sept. 15 disclosed the identities of two North Korean men who were forcibly repatriated in 2019. (courtesy of IPCNKR)
The International Parliamentarians’ Coalition for North Korean Refugees and Human Rights on Sept. 15 disclosed the identities of two North Korean men who were forcibly repatriated in 2019. (courtesy of IPCNKR)

The Seoul court ruled on Tuesday that it was wrong for the National Human Rights Commission of Korea to drop the petition filed on behalf of the two North Korean fishermen who were forcibly repatriated three years ago.

The Lawyers for Human Rights and Unification of Korea -- more widely known as Hanbyun -- filed the petition asking the public human rights watchdog to investigate the possible violations that may have occurred in the South Korea decision to deport the fishermen.

The South Korean government said in November 2019 that it had repatriated the North Korean fishermen on account of their alleged criminal history. The fishermen had allegedly murdered 16 of their crewmates as they fled the fishing boat, and their intentions to defect to South Korea appeared insincere, the government said at the time.

The lawyers’ group then argued that the two men should have been given access to a lawyer and a trial before they were sent back to North Korea.

In December 2020, the public human rights watchdog decided to reject the petition asking for an investigation more than a year after it was filed, citing the “political nature” of the case. The watchdog also said that as both victims are in North Korea, difficulties were anticipated in determining the facts.

Tuesday’s ruling was confirmed after the high court dismissed the watchdog’s appeal against the lower court finding that the cited reasons did not justify the decision not to carry out an investigation.

By Kim Arin (arin@heraldcorp.com)

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