February 23, 2021

What is Wrong with the Anti-Leafleting Law?

Seminar organized by the People Power Party
ROK National Assembly

Opening Remarks by Greg Scarlatoiu
Executive Director, Committee for Human Rights in North Korea
Monday, February 22, 2021

Distinguished Representative Joo Ho-young, Distinguished Assemblyman Cho Taeyong, Distinguished Assemblyman Ji Seong-ho, Esteemed Participants, Friends and Colleagues,

Thank you for the invitation to give brief remarks today. Let me begin by congratulating Assemblyman Cho on this bold initiative. It comes at a time when North Korean human rights defenders face unprecedented pressure in the Republic of Korea.

For 73 years, three generations of the Kim family regime have exercised draconian control of the North Korean population through overwhelming coercion, surveillance and punishment. Information control has been at the center of the regime’s totalitarian grip on power. And yet, for more than two decades, information from the outside world has been slowly, but surely piercing through North Korea’s information firewall. The number of North Koreans who watch American and South Korean movies and come in contact with Hallyu, K-pop, and South Korean TV dramas has been on the rise. And yet the number of vehicles available to deliver such content has been limited: radio broadcasting, micro-SD cards, USBs and other portable media devices sold at North Korea’s black markets, rice bottles and leaflet balloons. Removing any one of these vehicles will significantly impact the volume of information that enters North Korea.

Do all leaflet balloons launched from the South reach North Korea? If the launch is timed properly, taking into account wind speed and direction, yes. Is it possible to track them all the way to the landing grounds? Yes, through GPS and other tracking devices. Do some leaflet balloons end up elsewhere? Yes, if the launch is not prepared or timed correctly. Do the leaflets, movies, K-drama, Bibles, and cash sent via leaflet balloons have an impact? Absolutely. Eighty percent of the 1.2 million-strong North Korean military is forward-deployed, south of the Pyongyang-Wonsan line. Large parts of the area between that line and the DMZ are within reach. And even if only officers and NCOs were to read the leaflets, the impact would be significant. That is one possible reason why the North Korean regime and its propaganda so adamantly demanded that the balloon launches be banned.

Currently, under the pretext of COVID prevention, the North Korean regime is tightening control over its population. For the past few years, it has employed new content, new technologies as well as judicial and extra-judicial punishment to counter information from the outside world. Most recently, it has enacted draconian laws to punish those who circulate and access such information. The outside world, including South Korea, should answer by increasing, not decreasing the amount of information or the number of information delivery vehicles involved.

The role of information sent into North Korea is critical. Such information must highlight the sharp disconnect between the North Korean regime’s propaganda and the real lives of North Koreans. Such information must empower the people of North Korea and enable them to pierce through the veil of DPRK regime indoctrination and control, by: 1. Highlighting the fundamental contradiction between the DPRK’s Constitution, other legislation and obligations pursuant to international law and treaties on the one hand, and the regime’s propaganda on the other. 2. Explaining to the people of North Korea human rights and their egregious human rights situation. 3. Focusing on the corruption of the DPRK regime, in particular the inner core of the Kim family; and 4. Featuring the story of the outside world, especially free, prosperous, democratic South Korea.

On February 14, in response to a call by the ROK Ministry of Unification, my organization submitted a legal opinion on the “Anti-Leafleting Law,” authored by my colleague Amanda Morwedt Oh, HRNK human rights attorney, and our pro bono counsel.

The memo finds that South Korea’s Amendment to the Development of Inter-Korean Relations Act (the “Amendment”) violates ROK domestic and international legal obligations, namely the Constitution of the Republic of Korea and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The Amendment infringes on international human rights, including the freedoms of expression, thought, conscience, religion, assembly, and association. The Amendment is flawed in its statutory construction, poses jurisdictional considerations, infringes on fundamental rights, and is excessively punitive. Ultimately, the Amendment unnecessarily targets North Korean escapee groups working to send information, goods, and remittances to their fellow people and families in the North. If entered into force on March 30, 2021, this Amendment will also create second-order effects on the already vulnerable and oppressed North Korean people. The Amendment is a matter of grave concern for international human rights organizations.

Moreover, the Amendment runs counter to the idea that the U.S.-South Korea alliance is grounded in shared values, straining a staunch alliance, partnership, and friendship that has been so resilient for almost seven decades. The U.S. North Korean Human Rights Act, due for reauthorization again soon, will need to be reviewed more closely to find ways to factor in conditions created by the Amendment.

Without human rights, there can be no reconciliation, no peace, no prosperity for Koreans living in the north, and no unification. Positive change can be enacted only by the people of North Korea. In order to empower them, the best South Korea and the outside world can do is to increase the volume and quality of information as well as the range of vehicles available to deliver that information. This Amendment should be repealed before it goes into force on March 30, 2021.

Thank you very much.