Unification Media Group (UMG), which heads a consortium that includes Daily NK, recently signed a joint declaration condemning the Ministry of Unification’s recent announcement that it will conduct “office inspections” of 25 selected North Korean human rights and resettlement civil society organizations registered with the government agency.
The full text of the document can be found below.
Non-Governmental Organizations Reject Unilateral “Office Inspections” by the Ministry of Unification
The Ministry of Unification Must Cease the Discriminatory Repression of North Korean Human Rights and Resettlement Organizations
In an extraordinary afternoon briefing on July 16 (Thursday), the Spokesperson of the Ministry of Unification revealed that it would conduct office inspections of 25 selected North Korean human rights and resettlement civil society organizations registered with the Ministry of Unification. In addition, on July 17 (Friday) and July 20 (Monday) the Ministry demanded that 64 accredited non-governmental organizations active in the area of North Korean human rights and resettlement programs each submit an entire body of documentation proving that they satisfy the requirements of a not-for-profit civil society organization, as a condition to maintain their status of registration with the Ministry.
The reasons for the Ministry of Unification conducting office inspections of these organizations are unclear. The Ministry’s inspection of these civil society organizations is not only unprecedented, the selection standards and principles for the subject organizations lack transparency and have been unilaterally imposed. In addition, the Ministry’s officially revealed aim of strengthening control signifies that all relevant nongovernmental organizations are potential targets. It is leading to substantial reduction of activities in the civil society space. Against this, non-governmental organizations registered and unregistered alike cannot stay silent. Therefore, the undersigned organizations reject the unilateral “office inspection” of the Ministry of Unification for the following reasons:
○ All decisions and processes lack transparency
The Ministry of Unification has proposed the provision in Article 8 of the “Rules on the Establishment and Supervision of Not-for-profit Corporations under the Jurisdiction of the Ministry of Unification” that “office inspections will be carried out in necessary cases”. However, the Ministry of Unification has not clarified what it means by “necessary cases”, and how that judgment has been reached. As a result, the Ministry’s process cannot but be arbitrary, deliberate or opaque. On the day of the Ministry of Unification briefing, being Thursday 16 July, and Friday the 17th, several members of the National Assembly acted upon the request of civil society organizations to call for the provision of a list of names of the 25 subject organizations determined by the Ministry of Unification, and the reasons for each. The Ministry of Unification rejected this request.
○ Bureaucracy aiming at stifling civil society organizations (CSOs) and their activities
All CSOs registered under the Ministry of Unification have sincerely fulfilled their duties to submit relevant documents to register, maintain and change their status until now. Despite this, the Ministry has specifically pointed out those registered NGOs that promote North Korean human rights and assist resettlement of North Korean defectors in South Korea as the subjects of “office inspections” and has proposed to review whether they meet registration requirements. This is clearly discriminatory and oppressive. It implies that the Ministry has prepared a certain “blacklist.”
○ Harm to Democracy and Politicization of North Korean Human Rights Issues
That the Ministry of Unification has used the recent incident of propaganda leaflets sent to the North as pretext to cancel the registrations of some organizations, and has subsequently announced an office inspection limited to North Korean human rights and resettlement organizations, can only be seen as a decision to intimidate and liquidate organizations that fight for North Korean human rights.
The act of overseeing, surveilling and controlling the activities of civil society organizations using arbitrary standards fundamentally harms South Korean democracy and restricts civil society space. The government is interfering in and undermining human rights issues clearly recognized by international society, and reducing them to merely domestic politics.
We hence request the following of the Ministry of Unification:
– The Ministry of Unification shall immediately cease unfairly targeted office inspections of North Korean human rights and resettlement organizations
– The Ministry of Unification shall transparently and publicly reveal the purpose and process of office inspections
– The Ministry of Unification shall immediately cease political acts and attempts
July 22, 2020
Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights
Transitional Justice Working Group
North Korea Strategy Center
Nochain for Northern Korea
Lawyers for Human Rights and Unification of Korea
National Development Institute (NDI)
Unification Media Group
Korean War Abductees’ Family Union
Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights
Open North Korea (ONK)
1969 KAL Abductees’ Families Association
Free North Korea Radio
Citizens’ Coalition for Human Rights of Abductees and North Korean Refugees
Association of the North Korean Defectors
NK Intellectuals Solidarity(NKIS)
Center for Liberty and Reunification
Committee for the Democratization of North Korea
NK People’s Liberation Front
Unification Future Solidarity
Pen International North Korean Writers in Exile Center
New Korea Women’s Union
Justice for North Korea
Improving North Korean Human Rights Center