Ex-prez of S. Korea scrutinized for returning defectors to North

Republicans have promised, should they retake the U.S. House and Senate in the upcoming midterm elections, they will restore government accountability by going after opposition party members who have abused their power in office. Meanwhile, thousands of miles away, in South Korea, the recently seated government of President Yoon Suk-yeol is making good on a similar pre-election promise.

The previous administration of President Moon Jae-in committed an unspeakable wrong, resulting in the certain tortuous deaths of two North Korean fishermen. Yoon intends to hold Moon accountable. Attempting to defect, the two North Koreans were labeled “dangerous criminals” by Moon, without affording them the most basic of human rights, before forcefully returning them. While evidence suggests the two may have committed crimes to make their escape, the real justification by Moon for returning them runs contrary to everything for which democracy stands.

On Nov. 2, 2019, the fisherman, both in their 20s, entered South Korean waters aboard a fishing vessel. The South Korean navy chased the boat for two days. As it did so, the Moon government was communicating with the North about what was happening. But, because the South Koreans were led to believe the two had gained control of the ship by killing 16 other crew members and dumping their bodies overboard, Moon did something South Korea had never before done in its history. He returned the two fishermen to the North, unbelievably only 48 hours after seizing the ship. Effecting a speedy return of the North Koreans appeared to be Moon’s only concern as he completely disregarded both domestic and international law.

If 16 crewmen were murdered, that is a heinous crime in need of being addressed; however, such “evidence” appears to come from the North. While no other crew members were found onboard, perhaps they had been put out to sea in a lifeboat to make their way back. If so, it is disgusting to think Seoul immediately returned them absent a thorough investigation and trial. If a guilty verdict was rendered by a South Korean court, it would have earned them a prison sentence, to be served in the South. This would have been a much more humanitarian fate than what awaited them in the North. While Moon claims the two admitted their guilt, there is no evidence of this. Even the United Nations criticized the Moon government for violating the fishermen’s rights.

Jung Gwang-il escaped from the North earlier and now lives in the South, having been granted asylum. He stated, “If the South Korean government recognizes them as criminals without a trial or investigation, then I am also a criminal as well.”

South Korea released a four-minute video of the two fishermen being forcibly returned across the border at the DMZ. It is heartbreaking to watch. They are seen, blindfolded and bound, physically resisting their return, obviously recognizing more than just a fast execution awaited them. One of them had to be forcibly dragged and ultimately carried across. Undoubtedly, that video will be played and replayed repeatedly in North Korea to show its citizens the futility of trying to defect as the South will return them for so doing. It undoubtedly will have a chilling effect on those in the North considering defection.

Respected North Korea observer Lawrence Peck detailed another sin Moon committed:

“Under South Korean law, North Koreans, with only a few exceptions, are deemed to be citizens of South Korea. Of course, while North Koreans are still physically present in the North, they are unable to assert such status as a practical matter, but once North Koreans such as defectors arrive in the South … they are citizens of the South who are able to assert their rights as citizens in a practical manner. This means that Moon Jae-in was not only forcibly returning North Koreans to their deaths in the North without due process of law, but that he was also forcing individuals deemed South Korean citizens under South Korean law to be sent back to the North without due process of law.”

An American activist for North Korean human rights, Henry Song, noted, “Right now, the defectors are pissed and scared. This case is the matchstick that’s lighting the flame. … They are afraid that future defectors or they themselves might be targets if they are accused of crimes in North Korea before they defected.” He added, “There are so many unknowns. Did these men really kill their boat-mates? Where’s the evidence?”

Human Rights Watch – an international nongovernmental organization that investigates and documents human rights violations – believes South Korea’s investigation was insufficient. It condemned the repatriation of the two fishermen, claiming it to be “illegal under international law” and criticizing South Korean authorities for not having “thoroughly investigated the allegations.”

South Korean prosecutors are now giving the incident the much more in-depth investigation it deserved to determine whether the two fishermen were simply sacrificed as political pawns of the Moon administration’s appeasement policy. Yoon’s office has called Moon’s act a “crime against humanity.”

Knowing what would happen to the fishermen after their return, why would Moon have rushed to judgment concerning what happened onboard the ship, based simply perhaps upon what the North may have asserted, denying them due process and a fair trial, quickly repatriating them?

Human rights activist Song hit the nail on the head with his conclusion, “(Defectors) are calling President Moon an utter hypocrite. He’s known as a human rights lawyer and his motto is ‘putting people first,’ but this is really about (North Korean leader) Kim Jong-un being put first.”

Sadly, an irresponsible President Moon believed repatriating the two fishermen would earn him the respect of the ruthless dictator Kim. It did not. It only succeeded in giving Kim the satisfaction of knowing he could intimidate his brothers to the South into rolling over. It was a lesson Moon learned at the cost of two young lives of North Koreans whose only known crime was seeking their freedom.

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