A United Nations independent expert on alleged North Korean human rights violations was put on the defensive in Seoul Thursday over South Korea’s opaque treatment of defectors.
Tomás Ojea Quintana, an Argentinean human rights lawyer who was appointed in 2016 as the U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, held a press conference after wrapping up a four-day visit to South Korea this week. In his statement he mentioned the case of the 12 North Korean women restaurant workers who escaped from China to seek asylum in South Korea in 2016. North Korea has demanded the return of these defectors, charging that they were abducted by South Korean agents.
Quintana said he wanted to meet with meet with the women to independently verify that they had come to the South of their own accord, but was not able to do so. Asked if South Korea denied him access to the women, he was very careful in his response.
“The South Korean government, I would say, is not preventing me to interview them, but there are some limitations in terms of, I would say, organizing the encounter with these women,” said Quintana.
South Korea often will not release any information about defectors, purportedly to protect families of the defectors that are still in North Korea from any government retribution.