24 November 2022
Ms. Elizabeth Salmón
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
By email: email@example.com
Re: The deportation of Mr. Woo Beom-Seon (우범선) and Mr. Kim Hyun-Wook (김현욱), two North Korean (DPRK: Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) nationals, to North Korea by South Korea (ROK: Republic of Korea) on 7 November 2019 and their subsequent enforced disappearance
Dear Ms. Salmón
On 7 November 2019, the South Korean government deported Mr. Woo Beom-Seon and Mr. Kim Hyun-Wook, two North Korean individuals who were reportedly seized in the East Sea on 2 November 2019, to North Korea, based on their alleged confession of having killed 16 persons on the boat they were spotted on by the South Korean navy.
On 28 January 2020, your predecessor, Tomás Ojea Quintana, along with the Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment sent a joint allegation letter to South Korea (AL KOR 3/2019) and a joint urgent appeal to North Korea (UA PRK 2/2019).
In these communications, the UN human rights experts jointly expressed their deep concern about South Korea’s repatriation of Mr. Woo and Mr. Kim to North Korea where citizens often face serious human rights violations upon return according to their well-documented cases, including enforced disappearance, arbitrary execution, torture and ill-treatment, and trials that do not conform to international standards for fairness.
They also jointly urged North Korea to inform about Mr. Woo and Mr. Kim’s whereabouts and ensure due process and fundamental human rights for them, including the right to the presumption of innocence, the right not to be subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment and the right to a fair trial and equality before the courts, guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other human rights treaties to which North Korea is a State Party. The North Korean government was specifically referred to the 1992 Declaration on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance, in particular that any act of enforced disappearance is an offence to human dignity (article 1) and that no State shall practice, permit or tolerate enforced disappearance (article 2.1).
Three years have passed since Mr. Woo and Mr. Kim’s forcible repatriation of 7 November 2019, but North Korea has yet to reveal Mr. Woo and Mr. Kim’s fate and whereabouts or to disclose whether their due process and fundamental human rights, including the right to the presumption of innocence, the right not to be subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment and the right to a fair trial and equality before the courts, have been observed.
We note in this regard that the new annual North Korean human rights resolution adopted by consensus in the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly on 16 Nov 2022 urges the North Korean government to ensure that North Korean citizens who are expelled or returned to the DPRK are “not subjected to any kind of human rights violations, including enforced disappearances, arbitrary executions, torture and ill-treatment and trials that do not conform with international fair trial guarantees” (para. 18(g)) and expresses grave concern at “the identical and non-substantive replies by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the numerous communications transmitted by the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances” (preambular para. 23).
While the new Yoon Suk-Yeol government in South Korea has initiated criminal investigations into Mr. Woo and Mr. Kim’s forcible repatriation, it has yet to press North Korea for answers concerning their treatment. Nor has it taken measures to guarantee non-recurrence including: the codification of the newly arriving North Korean escapees’ right to South Korean citizenship, provided that they freely express a permanent allegiance to South Korea before a judge; the transfer of the primary authority for the interrogation of North Korean escapees as well as their detention facility from the National Intelligence Service (NIS) to the Ministry of Justice (MOJ); and a clearly defined law governing the interrogation/detention process with minimum due process and the principle of non-refoulement.
We believe that Mr. Woo and Mr. Kim’s life and well-being should be paramount and that no other North Korean escapees arriving in South Korea in the future should face a similar situation. Therefore, we recommend that you, individually or jointly with other UN human rights experts, urge:
- North Korea to clarify Mr. Woo and Mr. Kim’s fate and whereabouts and to conduct a full, transparent and independent investigation into their alleged crimes with protections for fair trials and due process rights; and
- South Korea to review and reform its laws, regulations and policies to guarantee non-recurrence of forcible repatriation of North Korean escapees, namely, by codifying their right to South Korean citizenship when they freely express a permanent allegiance to South Korea before a judge; by transferring the primary authority for the interrogation of North Korean escapees as well as their detention authorities from the NIS to the MOJ; and by having a clearly defined law governing the interrogation/detention process with minimum due process and the principle of non-refoulement.
1969 KAL Abductees' Families Association
Beyond the Boundary
Citizens' Alliance for North Korean Human Rights (NKHR)
Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK)
Database Center for North Korean Human Rights (NKDB)
Improving North Korean Human Rights Center
Institute for Transitional Justice and Integration (ITJI)
Justice For North Korea
Korean War POW Family Association
Lawyers for Human Rights and Unification of Korea
Liberty in North Korea (LiNK)
Now Action & Unity for Human Rights (NAUH)
Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights (NKnet)
North Korea Reform Radio
North Korea Strategy Center
North Korean Human Rights Corporation (NKHRC)
People for Successful Corean Reunification (PSCORE)
Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG)
Unification Media Group (UMG)