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Date : August 26, 2020
NKnet-Cease the repression of North Korean human rights groups immediately.

Cease the repression of North Korean human rights groups immediately. 

-We call for the government to withdraw its unprecedented restrictive policies on activism for North Korean human rights. 
-We demand that the government not use NGOs working for North Korean human rights as a scapegoat to pacify the North Korean authorities. 
-We protest the crackdown on activist groups calling for North Korean human rights as undemocratic. 
-We assert that these measures violate the government's obligations to ensure basic rights as a UN member state.  

We, civil organizations standing for North Korean human rights, argue that the Unification Ministry’s recent actions towards NGOs working for North Korean human rights are undemocratic and work against human rights. Therefore, we strongly urge the withdrawal of these policies and measures. 

On June 4th, Kim Yo-jong, the first Vice Director of the United Front Department of the Workers' Party of North Korea, released the following commentary in Rodong Shinmun - the publication of the Workers’ Party, saying “Do not provoke unnecessary rage” and criticizing the government of South Korea for not being able to restrain activists from launching anti-Kim Jong Un propaganda leaflets. Further, she threatened that, “The government of the South will pay the price if they just let it go on.”  On June 16th, the regime intensified its threat by blowing up the inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong.   

The Ministry of Unification started to repress North Korean human rights activism in response to criticism by the North Korean authorities. On June 17th, the Ministry revoked the corporate licenses of the two organizations who were responsible for the leaflet balloon distributions and, the day before that, the Ministry announced that “based on recent events, we will proceed to investigate the management of organizations in the field of North Korean human rights and support for defectors’ resettlement”. The Ministry then reported that 25 NGOs would be investigated in a first round beginning at the end of July. 

Such an unprecedented series of measures by the Ministry of Unification can be understood as a reply to the commentary of Kim Yo-jong. Her commentary induced the measures from the administration by explicitly stating, “It is not the wrong-doer whom I hate most, but the bystander who pretends to see nothing or who encourages.” It seems in this context that the Ministry is determined to demonstrate to the North Korean authorities that they are not turning a blind eye to human rights activism anymore.

Examining the excessive measures taken over the last month we can find six kinds of errors committed by the Ministry of Unification. 

Firstly, most North Korean citizens, abducted South Korean nationals, and foreigners living in North Korea are victims of the violations of freedoms of religion, __EXPRESSION__, and thought. Some are victims of abduction and forced disappearance. Citizens face discrimination based on social class and family background. Their freedom to movement is highly restricted and many face arbitrary detention, torture, execution and crimes against humanity in political prison camps. Repressing activism due to the intimidation of North Korean authorities equates to acquiescence and turning a blind eye to the inhumane suffering of these people. 

Secondly, these measures dismiss a basic principle of democracy- the participation of civil society in politics. These measures contradict the democratic values that the government promised to protect following the people’s “candlelight revolution." 

Third, the government committed a mistake by renouncing its  commitments as a member state of the UN and a party member of international Covenants. North Korea joined the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1981. South Korea also joined them in 1990. Both governments should be responsible for ensuring that their own citizens can enjoy the rights enshrined in these international covenants. Repressing activism which seeks to uphold these international covenants is an act which renounces such commitments made to protect human rights as a member state of the UN.

Fourth, the South Korean Ministry’s measures signal to the North’s authorities that the North's intimidation and commentary have practical power to control South Korean civil society. Kim Yo-Jung’s commentary clearly declared that “(the South Korean government) should thoroughly prevent such a disgraceful thing from happening in the first place”, and consequently, it seems that the South’s Ministry has reacted to the North by imposing such measures accordingly. With this action, the government of South Korea signals that it is willing to respond to threats from the North. 

Fifth, both the Blue House and the Ministry of Unification both falsely believe that ‘activism for North Korean human rights’ by South Korean society and media disturbs the development of inter-Korean relations.  In other words, by denying or ignoring North Korean human rights issues, the South hopes to win an opportunity for talks with the North. Recalling the PyeongChang Olympics and the previous Summits, during which civil organizations continued to actively work for the human rights of North Koreans, the current logic behind the South Korean government's actions is not correct.  

Sixth, by manipulating the human rights discourse as a variable in the denuclearization and peace process, the South Korean government loses leverage in negotiations with North Korean authorities.  

We civil organizations therefore urge the Blue House and the Ministry of Unification accordingly: 

First, we urge the government to withdraw the plan of administrative investigations in response to the threat of the North Korean regime. 

Second, we urge the government to implement a North Korean human rights law in order to establish sustainable policies on North Korea, regardless of political ideology, based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

Third, we urge the government to not to use North Korean human rights as a variable in negotiations for the improvement of Inter-Korean relations, denuclearization, and economic exchange.  

We ask for the Ministry of Unification to promptly examine our requests. In addition, civil organizations hope to discuss this issue with the Unification Minister in person. 

July 21, 2020 

Network for Democratization and Human Rights in North Korea
Open North Korea 
Unification Media Group
Unification Academy
Unification Strategy Institute

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