Tuesday, December 06, 2011

The kidnapped

On Saturday, the New York Times published an article about Lee Mi-il and her 11 year campaign to "generate more interest in the fate of tens of thousands of South Koreans believed to have been forcibly taken to North Korea during the Korean War six decades ago." As the article makes clear, the obstacles placed in the way of an inquiry into these people were put there by both Koreas.
“They [DPRK] never admit kidnapping because that would be admitting a crime,” Ms. Lee said. “They just hope we’ll all be dead soon and this will all be forgotten.”

In 2000, she shut down her nursery and established the Korean War Abductees’ Family Union, bringing together 700 families.

In 2002, her group found a 1952 government document listing 83,000 South Koreans as kidnapped, a preliminary wartime compilation that officials had previously denied existed. It was gathering dust, uncataloged, in a government library.[...]

Last year, after seven years of lobbying by her group, lawmakers passed a bill authorizing the first government investigation of wartime kidnappings. In August, the government panel confirmed 55 men as kidnapped. More such rulings are expected during its four-year inquiry. To Ms. Lee, the official recognition was a first step toward establishing a “systematic war crime” by North Korea.

According to South Korean government estimates, Communist troops and militias killed 59,000 to 122,800 South Korean civilians during the war.
There is another group which protests the kidnappings of South Koreans by the north since the end of the war. In the Kim Dong-won documentary Repatriation (2003), they are seen attempting to stop the repatriation of 'unconverted' prisoners back to North Korea in 2000, and can't help being seen as obstacles to the ultimate fulfillment of the 'plot,' of the prisoners' return home (though Kim asks one of the prisoners why he won't just meet one of the leaders of the group and at least give her a hearing). Donald Kirk wrote an article in September about these families (here, though since the link isn't working now, try the cache here).
Hwang In-Chul, the son of a television producer whom the North Koreans decided to hold after he “apparently denounced communism”, described his feelings at a forum here of the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights. He intermingled his personal responses with sweeping criticism of South Korean authorities for their reluctance to press the case. [...]

Hwang contrasted the South Korean position with that of Japan — an example that Korean officials prefer to ignore. Unlike his own government, he said, “the Japanese government recognizes the case of North Korea’s abduction of Japanese nationals as a violation of its sovereignty, actively brings their citizens back, and continuously makes an effort to solve this problem.” [...]

Benjamin Yoon, chairman of the Citizens’ Alliance, summarized their problems. “Although family members were victims,” he said, “they were kept under tight surveillance and control by the South Korean government”. Incredibly, he added, “The stigma attached to the ‘Missing Person Household’ label,” as recorded on school records and other documents, condemned “young children of such families to endure all forms of societal prejudice and institutional discrimination.”
This reminds me a little of this story, about the families of the soldiers killed in the June 2002 naval battle between the north and south, who found it difficult to publicly mourn the fallen:
"Nervous government officials, worrying that the incident might cast a pall over the Sunshine Policy, even warned the families to please be quiet." [...] "Our children who lost their lives to the enemy are being treated like criminals who tried to ruin the atmosphere of intra-Korean reconciliation," one family member said."

This quote from Don Kirk's article was also interesting: “the Japanese government recognizes the case of North Korea’s abduction of Japanese nationals as a violation of its sovereignty, actively brings their citizens back, and continuously makes an effort to solve this problem.” This stands in contrast to South Korea, which - apparently - would rather aim at dastardly foes like the US by attempting to amend the SOFA agreement (again).

At the same time, the case of the kidnapped Japanese took years to be acted on by the Japanese government, even after it was known what had happened (as related in the book North Korea Kidnapped my Daughter, which detailed the decades-long search for the truth by the parents of Megumi Yokota, who was 13 when she was kidnapped).

(Hat tip to Ryan)

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