South Korea has come under harsh criticism for quickly deporting two North Koreans who were accused of murdering the captain and several crew of the fishing boat they worked on.
According to Seoul’s Ministry of Unification, the fishermen killed 16 crew members on their fishing boat prior to being picked up by South Korean authorities near the Northern Limit Line, the maritime border between North and South Korea, in waters east of the Korean peninsula.
“What’s really, really troubling is that the South Korean authorities took only three days to issue these two men a death sentence,” said Greg Scarlatoiu, executive director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK).
“The fact that two human beings can be issued a death sentence in South Korea in three days is deeply, deeply troubling. It sends a signal to other North Korean escapees that South Korea no longer welcomes them. South Korea no longer provides a safe haven for them,” Scarlatoiu added.
South Korean officials said that the two fishermen confessed that they and another crew member killed the captain of the fishing vessel in late October because of his harsh treatment. They then killed the other crew members one by one, dumping their bodies overboard, the officials said.
The fishermen were sent back to North Korea through the joint security area in Panmunjom, a first for deportations.
“We decided to deport them after determining that accepting them to our society could pose a threat to the lives and safety of our people and that such criminals cannot be recognized as refugees under international law,” said South Korean Ministry of Unification Spokesperson Lee Sang-Min, at a press briefing.
Jung Gwangil, a former official at a North Korean trading company who now runs a human rights organization based in South Korea, told Radio Free Asia that he believed that Seoul gave the men up so quickly to placate the North over other issues in the fractious inter-Korean relationship.
HRNK issued an official statement saying that it was deeply concerned over “the first deportation of North Koreans by South Korea since the 1953 Korean War Armistice.”
Scarlatoiu noted that “for more than 20 years, the South Korean government and the people of South Korea, the taxpayers of South Korea, have extended help and naturalization programs to about 33,000 North Koreans.”
The HRNK’s statement pointed out that the men were returned to the North against their will, an act that “undermines” the South Korean constitution, which recognizes all North Koreans as citizens of the Republic of Korea, “granting them the right to live in the South and be protected by its legal system.”