Human rights and North Korean defector groups in South Korea say they are struggling to raise money, cutting jobs and programs, and facing pressure to avoid criticism of Pyongyang as Seoul and Washington focus on diplomatic outreach to the isolated country.
Activists say they were disappointed but unsurprized that human rights has seemingly disappeared from the agenda as South Korean and American leaders met with Kim Jong Un in recent months.President Moon Jae-in’s administration has moved away from criticism of Pyongyang’s rights record in favor of engagement. Senior aides to Moon have said they believe confronting Pyongyang could be counterproductive and possibly harmful to North Korean citizens, who will continue to suffer if their government remains isolated.
The South Korean government recently closed the office of a human rights foundation, and representatives of several non-governmental organizations said they have struggled to secure funding. The government ended nearly 20 years of funding for the Association of North Korean Defectors in December, forcing the organization to end most of its programs. South Korean citizens have also told the group to stop launching propaganda leaflets into North Korea because it would “throw a wet blanket on improving inter-Korean relations.”
Citing a lack of financial backing, as well as recent clashes between police and groups trying to send leaflets into North Korea, Kim Tae-hee, a defector who heads the Coalition for North Korean Refugees, said she feels the government is undermining the work of human rights and defector NGOs. The Citizen’s Alliance for North Korean Human Rights said their organization had also seen donations from South Korean corporations dry up over the past year.
Officials with the International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK), which is affiliated with international organizations like Human Rights Watch and Freedom House, said they have struggled to win new government grants.
UN investigators have reported the use of political prison camps, starvation and executions in North Korea, saying security chiefs and possibly even Kim Jong Un himself should face international justice.