1. The US has been politically and financially supporting organizations that distribute anti-Pyeongyang leaflets.
The US State Department has developed the ‘Annual Program for Human Rights, Accountability, and Access to Information in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’ to support the influx of information into North Korea and promote information leakage from it. With the program, 2 to 15 of the leaflet organizations will be provided with financial support, worth between $50,000 million and $3 million.
For instance, the National Endowment for Democracy(NED), which receives budget from the Department of State to support the relevant organizations, provided a total of $11,222,553 to the so-called “North Korean human rights organizations” over the four years between 2016 and 2019, about 20 percent of which have been used in supporting information liberty in North Korea. Furthermore, the Human Rights Foundation(HRF), which has supported the leaflet organizations together with NED, not only financially sponsored the Fighters For Free North Korea(FFNK), the most representative leaflet organization in South Korea, but also carried out the spread together.
2. The anti-Pyeongyang leaflets have rather become a clear and present threat to the people near the border than an influx of information into the North. This is also a problem for the entire Korean Peninsula, given the fact that conflicts and clashes along the demarcation line are a threat to inter-Korean relations and peace on the Peninsula.
The border area is home to 1.12 million residents in South Korea alone. The area is under constant anxiety and danger unless the division of Korea is completely ended, which becomes a place of war where the safety and lives of the residents are threatened in the event of heightened tensions between the two Koreas. The leaflet distribution in such a space is no different from military provocation.
If there is one human right to be protected, it is the sovereignty of the people of the Korean Peninsula, who have pursued the improvement of inter-Korean relations, peace on the Peninsula, and the lives and safety of the people near the border.
3. The leaflet dissemination at the border is not just an expression, but an apparent act of hostility that harms peace on the Korean Peninsula. The suspension of hostile acts against each other is the minimum step toward mutual trust, dialogue, and peace.
Some argue that the distribution of the propaganda leaflets to North Korea is “freedom of expression” and “free influx of information.”
However, the contents of the leaflets are filled with hostility and hatred. If you look at the actual leaflets distributed to North Korea, there are not only simple criticism of the regime and unauthenticated fake news, but also many obscene expressions such as sexual derogation.
We cannot help but ask whether it can be accepted as freedom of expression if flyers are distributed all over Washington DC, which sexually belittles American political leaders.
The rights to life, safety, and peace of the people of the Korean Peninsula cannot be violated in the name of improving human rights in North Korea. As the leaflet scattering leads to the escalation of tensions and threats between the two Koreas, it is only an act that gives rise to an anti-humanitarian situation.
Also, it should be recognized that free influx of information can be realized in both Koreas only when the hostile relationship ends and active exchanges and cooperation increase. It should be considered that the sanctions of the UN and the US are the ones disturbing free exchange of information.
4. The Supreme Court of South Korea already ruled that the propaganda leaflet scattering cannot be seen as freedom of expression since it posed risks to the lives and bodies of the people according to the South Korean Constitution and other laws in 2016. The South Korean executive branch and provincial governments have also exercised their administrative authority to prevent the spread of leaflets and stop further escalation of inter-Korean relations. Accordingly, the legislative branch of South Korea passed a partial revision of the 「Development of Inter-Korean Relations Act」, which introduces a ban on violations of the inter-Korean agreement such as loud-speaker broadcasting and scattering of leaflets in the areas along the Military Demarcation Line, publishing posts, and leaflet activities against North Korea.
However, some members of the US Congress have been calling for a reconsideration of the National Assembly’s decision, mentioning their plan to bring South Korean government officials to a hearing. This is a clear intervention in Korea’s domestic affairs.
Would it be acceptable if the Korean National Assembly plans to hold a hearing on the issue of racism, which has caused the recent “BLM movement” across the US?
The US Congress and the government should immediately stop any undue interference in Korea’s domestic matters and intervention in its sovereign action.
February 27th, 2021
Confederation of Lawyers of Asia and the Pacific