S. Korea to ensure N. Korean defectors' privacy after criticism

Lisa Turner, Sept. 10, 2019, 10:02 a.m.

The unification ministry said Tuesday it will improve the way news of defections by North Koreans is made public to ensure their privacy, following criticism it mishandled the 2016 high-profile defections of about a dozen restaurant workers.

The 12 North Korean waitresses, employees of a restaurant in China, defected to the South in 2016, along with a male manager. In an unusual move, the government immediately released the news of the massive defection, five days ahead of general elections, raising speculation that the authorities might have pulled the strings behind the rare group defection.

After a yearlong investigation, the National Human Rights Commission said there is a lack of evidence to confirm the government's intervention in the defection, but said the ministry failed to guard the defectors' privacy in the process of making the news public.

The watchdog recommended that the ministry better protect defectors' human rights and reveal how the decision to release the news was made in 2016.

"We plan to review and announce ways to improve our service," a ministry official said, following the probe results. "One of the measures could be to make transparent guidelines on when such news should be made public."

Last week, a team of international lawyers released the result of its own investigation into the case, saying that the restaurant workers arrived in South Korea after being "deceived and abducted" by the manager. The lawyers group said they would report the results to the U.N. Human Rights Council by the end of this month.

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