On April 29, 1992, South Korea’s top intelligence agency arrested dozens of activists for plotting to overthrow the government by building underground socialist organizations. One of those arrested was Baik Tae-ung, the then 29-year-old activist sentenced to life in prison, a sentence which was later reduced to 15 years. Baik was designated as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International and released in 1999 through a special pardon from former President Kim Dae-jung. He flew to the United States, where he earned a doctoral degree on international human rights law and passed the bar exam in the State of New York.
Now the activist-turned-professor has returned to South Korea with a new mission – to bring home people abducted by North Korea. In 2015, his activities won him the membership of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, representing Asia-Pacific states. The U.N. human rights expert said that his agency’s role is to act as a bridge between the families of the abductees and their government. “The organization fosters communication between the victims and their state by constantly monitoring the case until final closure,” Baik said.
To date, North Korea has refused to discuss the disappearances issue since the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Right reported back in 2014 that the regime was responsible for the disappearances of more than 200,000 people.
Baik suggests there are possibilities that the North may open up toward international organizations, indicating some changes that it made home and abroad amid international pressure on its human right condition. “I think North Korea is and has been making changes. Whether the changes are active or passive ones, they can no longer ignore the pressure from the international community. What we should do is to steer such changes in the right direction,” he said.
“I don’t think that the U.S. has a clear blueprint about how to improve the North’s human rights condition,” he said, noting that the sanction on the leader Kim is more of a security measure to curb nuclear development rather than a human rights approach.
[The Korea Herald]