Late last month, the North Korean authorities issued a written response to a UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention request for information on the whereabouts of ‘Daughter of Tongyeong’ Shin Suk Ja, saying that she died of hepatitis and adding that both daughters Hye Won and Kyu Won do not wish to meet their father.
This was the first official response from North Korea to such inquiries, in contrast with a 2010 petition by the Family Members of the 1969 KAL Kidnapping Victims, which has received no response.
It is likely that North Korea sent the official response primarily to calm negative international opinion, which was actively working to save Shin and her daughters. North Korea knows that the international community cannot verify either the cause of Shin’s death or the direct stance of her daughters regarding reunion with their father.
In particular, the North will probably now decline all additional attempts to verify the response by Shin’s family and NGO groups, citing the 'fulfillment of international obligations’ as a member of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
However, there remains a great deal of doubt as to the truthfulness of the North Korean response, particularly regarding the attitude of Shin’s daughters. Much of this skepticism is based on past examples of North Korean duplicity in such matters.
During the 1969 hijacking of the Korean Air YS-11 by a North Korean spy, for example, Pyongyang promised to return all passengers, but in the end retained 7 and a further 4 crew members. North Korea claims that the remaining 11 voluntarily stayed in North Korea thanks to the superiority of its society; however, the 39 who were able to return subsequently testified that they were kept against their will.
Elsewhere, in the late 1970s a high school student, Kim Yong Nam, was kidnapped by North Korea. During July, 2006 separated family reunions he said that he had not been kidnapped and went to the North by choice. However, a confirmed North Korean spy, Kim Kwang Hyun, has testified that this was another state-sponsored kidnapping. Worse still, in 2004 the ‘remains’ of a Japanese kidnapping victim, Yokota Megumi, were returned to the Japanese authorities, but DNA testing revealed that they were not her remains at all.
Choi Hong Jae, who headed last year’s ‘Daughter of Tongyeong’ campaign to save Shin said, “Given that North Korea has given false answers in the past about kidnapping victims, it is likely that it is a lie this time as well. It seems that Hye Won and Kyu Won’s rejection of meeting their father Mr. Oh Gil Nam is also due to pressure from North Korea.”
However, Yoon Yeo Sang, who heads the North Korean Human Rights Record Depository, pointed out, “North Korea’s response implies that they are to some degree accommodating the human rights problems raised by the UN. Because the exact date of Shin Suk Ja’s actual death was not released, it is a opportunity for us to aggressively demand more information.”
“It is important to verify the stance of the two daughters, so it is necessary to keep asking North Korea for a reunion in a third country,” he asserted. “There have been precedents in the past and since it is a humanitarian concern, if strongly demanded it may be possible.”