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(Yonhap Interview) U.N. rapporteur urges Seoul to have more discussions on banning anti-N.K. leaflets

All News 11:19 August 18, 2020

By Koh Byung-joon

SEOUL, Aug. 18 (Yonhap) -- The U.N. special rapporteur on North Korea's human rights situation urged South Korea to have more discussions about its push to prohibit the sending of anti-North Korea leaflets across the border, expressing concern it could violate the right to freedom of expression.

Tomas Ojea Quintana made the remark during a recent telephone interview with Yonhap News Agency as South Korea is seeking to legislate a ban on leaflet-sending, saying that it could heighten cross-border tensions and jeopardize the lives of people in border regions. He spoke from Argentina.

"You should know that the international human rights law in tacit terms, very specific terms, recognizes rights of everyone to impart information even across the border," he said during the interview. "It is not a matter of just discretion or point of view from the government."

"I believe that it is under the National Assembly level of South Korea where this has to be discussed and debated among political parties and representatives to what extent the leaflets being sent across the border and other kind of similar practices compromise national security of a country," he added.

Tomas Ojea Quintana, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, speaks during a news conference in Seoul on June 21, 2019, wrapping up his five-day trip to Seoul to gather information for a report that he was to submit to the U.N. General Assembly in October. (Yonhap)

The sending of leaflets has emerged as a major source of cross-border tensions since Pyongyang blew up a joint liaison office in its border town of Kaesong in anger over the matter in June. It has demanded the South take all necessary action to ban such activity.

The ministry has said that it could seek to legislate a ban on leafleting and revoked the licenses of two defector groups for their involvement in sending leaflets to the North last month.

Recently, the ministry launched an inspection on dozens of civic groups, including those run by North Korean defectors working for human rights and defector resettlement, setting off speculation that it might be intended to keep a lid on such activity.

The ministry has claimed that the groups subject to the audit were not chosen because they were involved in sending leaflets or defectors. The ministry plans to expand the inspection to include organizations working in other sectors going forward.

Quintana has been critical of the inspection, voicing worries that it could violate human rights. He recently held a video meeting on the matter with a senior unification ministry official to listen to Seoul's explanation and urged the inspection should be carried out in a way that does not undermine their efforts to improve the North's human rights situation.

He recently said that he was considering sending his stance on the matter in a "formal communication" to the ministry that the probe was initiated by a political decision and could violate human rights.

He, however, told Yonhap that the remarks were based on the explanation given by the ministry official during the recent meeting, but he needs more time to analyze latest developments before taking the action.

"It was clear from the information that they provided to me that only human rights and defector's organizations were being subject to audit and possible inspections," he said. "Now I understand that the ministry said that it is going to expand the audit to some other organizations."

"For me, a question, a very important question, is why only these organizations are suddenly, by a political decision made by the government, are being subject to this kind of very complicated and stressful requirement. ... This is my concern. And we are following up on what is happening," he added.


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