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Friday, June 14, 2024

Ambassador for North’s human rights likely to be reappointed

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Lee Shin-hwa, South Korea’s ambassador for international cooperation on North Korean human rights, far right, attends a forum about North Korean human rights issues in Oslo, Norway, on June 12. [YONHAP]
Lee Shin-hwa, South Korea’s ambassador for international cooperation on North Korean human rights, far right, attends a forum about North Korean human rights issues in Oslo, Norway, on June 12. [YONHAP]

Lee Shin-hwa, South Korea’s ambassador for international cooperation on North Korean human rights, will likely be reinstated for another year as the Yoon Suk Yeol administration looks to strengthen its stance on the issue.

Lee was appointed by the Yoon administration a year ago when she was a professor of political science at Korea University.

The post, which is a one-year tenure that addresses and raises awareness of human rights issues in North Korea, was created when the North Korean Human Rights Act came into effect in 2016.

Following the inaugural ambassador Lee Jung-hoon, professor of international studies at Yonsei University, who was appointed from 2016 to 2017, the post was left vacant for years during the former Moon Jae-in administration as it looked to engage with the North politically.

Lee’s year of engagement with the international community to raise awareness of human rights violations by the North Korean regime has received a generally positive assessment within the Yoon administration, which is considering extending her tenure for another year, according to government sources the JoongAng Ilbo spoke with recently.

Prior to her ambassadorship, Lee wrote extensively on North Korea and international cooperation and served as a special advisor to former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan’s Rwandan Independent Inquiry and advisor to the chair of the East Asian Vision Group. She was also an Advisory Group member of the Peacebuilding Fund.

Upon her inauguration last year, Lee told the press she will focus her attention on “shedding light” on North Korea’s human rights situation, stressing that it is the “least a democratic country” can do.

She had also spoken out against the former Moon administration’s decision to repatriate North Korean fishermen who defected to the South in November 2019, calling it a clear violation of both international and Korean law.

The Yoon administration recently nominated Kim Yung-ho, a hardliner on North Korea, as the new minister of unification. Upon his nomination Kim told the press that the role of the ministry will change, to focus more on improving freedom, human rights and the rule of law in North Korea.

Kim previously served as a presidential secretary of unification affairs and later as the Foreign Ministry’s human rights ambassador under the Lee Myung-bak administration.

Lee’s counterpart in the United States, Julie Turner, in the meanwhile has been nominated since January to serve as special envoy on North Korean human rights issues by the Joe Biden administration but is yet to be appointed.

Turner currently serves as the director of East Asia and the Pacific at the U.S. State Department.

BY PARK HYUN-JU, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]