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(LEAD) U.N. rapporteur says N. Korea responsible for 2020 death of S. Korean fisheries official

All News 14:53 June 29, 2022

(ATTN: UPDATES with more remarks, other details from 4th para; ADDS byline)
By Chae Yun-hwan

SEOUL, June 29 (Yonhap) -- The outgoing U.N. special rapporteur on North Korea's human rights situation made clear Wednesday that North Korea is responsible for the killing of a South Korean fisheries official in 2020 and stressed that the bereaved family has the right to know details of how the death occurred.

"I have said that the government of North Korea is responsible for violating the right and killing this fisheries official," Tomas Ojea Quintana said in a press conference in central Seoul. "It is the responsibility of the government of North Korea to disclose information about what happened to him, to punish those who shot him in the sea and to provide reparations to the family."

The man was shot and killed by North Korea's border guard near the western sea border in September 2020, with the secretive state's strict measures in place to stave off the spread of COVID-19.

"This case is an example of the kind of draconian laws implemented in North Korea in the context of the COVID-19 restrictions where someone could be shot in these circumstances," Quintana added. "The family of this person has the right to know exactly what happened."

The incident has drawn keen attention again since South Korea's Coast Guard and the defense ministry earlier this month overturned their announcement made under the previous Moon Jae-in administration that he was killed while presumably attempting to defect to the North. Critics, however, accused the government of having attempted to play down the incident in a bid not to antagonize Pyongyang.

The late official's family has demanded access to classified presidential documents to determine why the government made such an announcement at that time. The Presidential Archive, however, has rejected the call.

Presidential documents are sealed for up to 30 years from the end of a presidency, with a legal exception for their disclosure in case they are considered vital evidence in an investigation.

"The challenge is how to balance the right to know what happened on the one hand but also national security interests," said Quintana, adding the right to know in his perspective "goes first."

The U.N. rapporteur, who arrived in South Korea on Monday for a three-day trip, met with the brother of the late official the previous day.

It will likely be his last visit to South Korea as special rapporteur, with his six-year term ending in August.

Tomas Ojea Quintana, the U.N. special rapporteur on North Korea's human rights situation, speaks to reporters in a press conference in central Seoul on June 29, 2022. (Yonhap)

yunhwanchae@yna.co.kr
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