Considerable opposition mounted against the forced repatriation of North Korean defectors by the Chinese government. As opposition has grown, lawmakers have passed a National Assembly resolution, while National Assembly delegates in Geneva engaged in both protests against the repatriation of the North Korean defectors and even an ill-advised scuffle with a North Korean delegate. All the while, a bipartisan group of lawmakers has also been taking part in protests outside the Chinese embassy in Seoul. However, despite these standout examples, parliamentary participation has been limited in both scope and diversity.
The National Assembly’s lukewarm attitude comes from a lethargic conservative ruling party and the limits of an opposition party tied in with pro-North Korea extreme leftists. Now more than ever this is a good time for a bold politician with experience of North Korean human rights and abductee issues.
Lee Mi Il, who presides over the Korean War Abductees Family Union, is known as a strong woman indeed to families of abductees. She has been disabled since childhood and her father was dragged off to North Korea when she was young so she was raised by her mother. In her deep voice you can feel a nostalgic longing for her father.
Lee looks good when we meet her at the offices of the group she heads. She gives off a fresh vibe and seems ready for something new. However, her goal is not so new, “I want to pass on to the people the experiences and feelings I have felt in the field dealing with North Korean human rights problems.”
She recently called those South Korean lawmakers who did not lead the way against the repatriation of the North Korean defectors “cowards”. “I don’t know why they are doing nothing when they are representing the people in politics”, she says. “Looking at the young people who are falling into the trap of the propaganda of the leftists, I think they are afraid that their approval ratings will go down.”
It is important, she believes, to move the hearts of the Chinese people. She explains, “If the Chinese people realize the harsh torture the North Korean defectors will face once they are repatriated then they will be against repatriation. Then the Chinese government will not repatriate the defectors so easily.”
To Lee, there are no limitations for women with disabilities. She has been showing devotion to abductee issues for many years, even when they were being ‘ignored’ by the South Korean government.
When asked the most important quality a lawmaker needs, she answers, “Thinking about the country ahead of themselves.” It certainly feels new in a country with a deep distrust of politicians.
“They need to have many rough nights pondering deeply the country’s future”, she goes on. “Blowing up tear gas and hammering the door are the political ways of primitive people. They need to harbor a fundamental notion of what is wrong and right.”