Data CenterKorean War Abduction

Korean War Abduction

Q. How does wartime abduction differ from other usual damages from a war?

It was a crime of abducting civilians selectively and premeditatedly, and is an ongoing terrorism in the sense that their family members still suffer from not knowing the fate of their beloved ones abducted north.

During a war, an unspecified number of civilians are incidentally killed or injured, which is considered a force majeure. However, in the case of wartime abductees, only civilians they needed were abducted systematically with a careful plan to send either to North Korea or to battle fields. Selection was made with various cheatings and those who could not cheated were chased after until they were found and sent north by force. No matter how eager North Korean Premier Kim Il-sung and his Labor Party were to conceal their crime saying that it happened during an extraordinary time of war, abduction to north was a clear wartime crime. Furthermore, it is an ongoing terrorism in the sense that acknowledgement of the fate of the abductees has been denied.
Q. How were the negotiations on the repatriation of abductees to North Korea?
Out of a total of 468 pages, the White Paper on Separated Families in its pages 96~101 deals with a chronicle of the negotiations as to how the issues were dealt both by the United Nations Command (UNC) and the Korean National Red Cross (KNRC). A summary follows unless otherwise referenced in the parentheses:
December 30, 1951 At the 60th Armistice Talk, an issue on abducted civilians was raised by UNC for the first time. The Northern side refused to discuss it for it was not a military matter, insisting there were no abducted civilians except for those willingly converted.
January 2, 1952 The North demanded repatriation of some 5-million civilians being allegedly abducted by UNC side. In fact, they were refugees from the North.
January 8, 1952 The term "displaced civilians" was used to incorporate into the Armistice Agreement; ending up in Article 59 on repatriation of displaced civilians.
July 27, 1953 The war in Korea is over after three years of bloody fighting which has cost over two million lives. The armistice was signed at Panmunjom at 10:01 a.m. today, and the guns will all fall silent at ten o'clock tonight (Quoted from page 748, Chronicle of the 20th Century, JL International Publications, 1993).
August 12, 1953 Several hundreds of family members of those abducted to the North gathered for a rally at Toksu Palace in downtown Seoul, adopting a message calling for unconditional repatriation of those in captive in North Korea (Quoted from a microfilmed article appeared on The Chosun Ilbo, a vernacular daily, in its edition of August 14, 1953).
Note: A correspondent from Associated Press was there to cover the rally.
December 11, 1953 The first session of the sub-committee on repatriation of displaced civilians was held at Panmunjom, discussing and agreeing upon matters involving the place of exchange, time, etc., less the number of exchange.
January 5 thru
February 17, 1954
A notice for registration of displaced civilians was issued to receive some 70 applications wishing to go to Pyongyang.
February 18, 1954 UNC released a list of 37 out of 76 applicants to the North. The other 37 had meanwhile changed their mind not to go to Pyongyang, and two were found to have been engaged in espionage. The North repatriated 19 foreigners, inclusive of 11 Turks and 8 white Russians.
March 11, 1954 Thousands of family members of those abducted to the North gathered for a rally at Toksu Palace, calling for compliance of Article III, 59, Korean Armistice Agreement (repatriation of displaced civilians) and adopting a manifesto (a) asking for the U.N. Forces to come up with a strong measure for the abductees, (b) the communist side should be held responsible for those detained in the North as their status is prisoners of war, not so-called displace civilians, etc. (Quoted from a microfilmed article appeared on The Chosun Ilbo, a vernacular daily, in its edition of March 13, 1954).
Early Summer of 1954 An Asian Conference was held in Geneva for matters pertaining to issues involving South Korea and Vietnam. Foreign Affairs Minister Byon Yung-tae met with representatives from International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for discussing matters involving repatriation of those displaced civilians.
January 31, 1955 ICRC sent a letter to authorities both in South Korea and North Korea to confirm whether ICRC's involvement would be acceptable or not. The South welcomed to accept it.
September 8, 1955 The authorities in the South requested ICRC to arrange for repatriation of 17,500 abductees and 2,200 prisoners of war still kept in the North.
November 3, 1955 A reminder was sent to ICRC. It was confirmed that there was no reaction from the North.
May 1956 On the occasion of visit to South Korea by officials of ICRC (William H. Mitchell), the South Korean Red Cross requested ICRC for help on the issue of abductees by proposing 3-point proposals:

Firstly, confirm safety and whereabouts,
Secondly, notify who were survived and provide communication to families,
Finally, repatriation to the original place of residence.
June 15 thru
August 15, 1956
As a result of re-registration drive conducted during the period for those displaced civilians, a total of 7,034 persons were reported to have been abducted. The number was much less than 84,532 said to have been abducted, according to a survey done by South Korean Government in 1952.
October 1956 The South Korean Red Cross sent a list of those 7,034 to ICRC.
January 31, 1957 The North Korean Red Cross requested ICRC to arrange for a meeting with its counterpart in the South at a place convenient and acceptable to the South for exchanges of letters between family members on a regular basis.
March 19, 1957 On the occasion of ICRC's visit to South Korea, the South reminded the earlier proposal requiring safety and whereabouts of those in question . At this time, the North, through the courtesy of ICRC, asked for safety of 14,132 who came down from the North
November 1957 The 19th ICRC was held in New Delhi, and a list of 337 survivors in North Korea was delivered to the South. As for the North's request for whereabouts of those 14,132, the South made a survey of 14,132 which resulted in 14,112 of them came down to the South by their own will and discretion in its entirety.
September 9, 1959 Dr. Marcel Junod, vice-president of the International Commission of Red Cross, arrived at Kimpo International Airport for a visit to Seoul, and there was a parade of people welcoming him all the way into downtown Seoul. On the other hand, Minister Sohn of Health & Social Affairs held an interview with the press to assure that he would meet with Dr. Junod for an early repatriation of those civilians being detained in the North while he would also explain as to how South Korean civilians were abducted during the war (Quoted from a microfilmed article appeared on The Chosun Ilbo, a vernacular daily, in its edition of September 9, 1959).
September 10, 1959 Following a courtesy call to President Syngman Rhee in the morning, Dr. Junod of ICRC made a series of contacts in the afternoon at offices of the Korean National Red Cross in Seoul, meeting, among others, with eight family members representing those civilians abducted to the North, and Dr. Juno assured them to do his best for the repatriation in question (Quoted from a microfilmed article appeared on The Chosun Ilbo, a vernacular daily, in its edition of September 11, 1959). Note: The edition carried a photograph of the meeting.

No further progress was reported during the next ten years because of increased hostilities and provocation attributable to the North.

June 25, 1964 On the occasion of the 14thanniversary of the Korean War, The Chosun Ilbo, a leading vernacular daily published in Seoul, in collaboration with the South Korean Red Cross, launched a 55-day sign up campaign from today, aimed at collecting one million signatures with call for repatriation of those abducted during the Korea War. In 55 days, a total of 1,011,980 signatures were collected and eventually delivered the petition thereof containing 102 volumes of signatures to the United Nations Headquarters in New York by President Bang Woo-young of The Chosun Ilbo to John P. Humphrey, director of Human Rights (p 256, White Paper).
November 30, 2000 The Korean War Abductees' Family Union (KWAFU) is established for renewing activities of what was abandoned in the past (added).
August 30, 2001 Amnesty International declared today as "International Day of Disappeared."(added).
October 12, 2001 October 12, 2001 The 4th exchange of reunion of separated families being scheduled to take place on October 16th in both Seoul and Pyongyang was unilaterally cancelled by Pyongyang, attributing to the military posture in South Korea following the terrorist attacks against the U.S. on September 11, 2001 (added).
February 9~10, 2002 The 3rd International Conference on North Korean Human Rights & Refugees is held at the Korean YMCA in Tokyo, Japan (added).

Where we're now

the North in a broad sense as an issue of separated families being parted in two Koreas rather than an inherent political issue subject to the Korean Armistice Agreement under which those in the North should have been repatriated to the South pursuant to Article 3(III) 59 of the Agreement.
As far as KWAFU is concerned, they are still the nationals of the Republic of Korea, who have been forced by Communist Korea to reside in a location beyond the limit that South Korea's sovereign power can be effectively exercised.
The Article 2.2 of the Constitution calls for the Nation to protect nationals residing abroad by way of legislation. In this respect, a special law to deal with those abductees must be enacted based on which the Nation is obliged to deal with overall matters involved with the abductees (added).
Q. Let us know about the Korean War.
The Korean War (1950~53) broke out on Sunday, June 25, 1950. Communist North Korea invaded the independent southern half of the divided Korea at dawn. The invasion came without warning.

History tells us that the Northern army of 900,000 strong, with 150 Russian built T-34 tanks and ample artillery, launched a surprise attack across the 38th parallel.

The North Korean infantry captured the capital city of Seoul after three days and continued to advance southward to a line along the Naktong River, an area known as the Pusan perimeter.

The United Nations authorized a unified command for Korea. The nations that came to the aid of South Korea, sending ground forces, naval vessels, and/or air forces, are listed in recognition and honor of those who died or suffered here on the soil of the Korean peninsular.

They were from Australia, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Colombia, Ethiopia, France, Greece, Luxembourg, New Zealand, South Africa, Thailand, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Turkey and United States of America. Apart from those 16 nations, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden sent medical units to South Korea along with India and Italy.

The war was death's feast. South Korean military forces lost: 149,005 dead, 717,083 wounded and 132,256 missing. Nearly 35,000 Americans died in action and more than 100,000 wounded. There are about 32,000 of dead or wounded among the other U.N. forces. But the losses of South Korean civilians were greater. It was a tragic war that suffered 990,968 civilians; broken down as follows: Death 244,663, massacre 128,936, wounded 229,625, abducted 84,532, and missing 303,212(page 77, White Paper on Separated Families, Korean National Red Cross, published in 1976).

There were around 200,000 children who lost both parents. Thousands of mothers with small children became widows, numbering around 300,000. The White Paper in its page 81 recorded that there were two major series of abduction to the North Korea: the first wave at the end of July 1950 followed by the second one taking place in the middle of August 1950. Among those abducted, a total of 7,034 civilians were officially registered out of 84,532 civilians reported earlier as abductees, according to a report submitted by the South Korean Government to UN Command (UNC) in the course of talks on armistice.

Human Costs of the ROK (Republic of Korea) and UN Military

Deaths Injuries MIAs POWs
Total 178,569 555,022 28,611 14,158
ROK 137,899 450,742 24,495 8,343
UN 40,670 104,280 4,116 5,815
Deaths include those that occurred due to injuries and among MIAs and POWs
The number of ROK military POWs includes repatriated POWs
Q. What efforts were made in the past to repatriate those abducted by North Korea?

1) The Armistice Negotiations Process

Minutes from the Subcommittee on Agenda Item 4, the POW Issue Right after Seoul was recaptured on September 28, 1950, the UN military was made aware that large numbers of South Korean civilians had been abducted by North Korean forces. During the armistice negotiations, the UN side made an effort to conduct one-for-one exchanges between abducted civilians and the communist soldiers under UN custody. However, these efforts failed when North Korea made the disingenuous promise to unconditionally release foreign civilians in its custody, and thoroughly concealed its campaign of abduction by insisting that not only had no abductions taken place but rather it was the UN military that had abducted 50,000 North Korean citizens. This turn of events is shown in brief below.

- December 30, 17thConference
The UN used, for the first time, the term "those forcibly held by North Korea" instead of "North Korean abductions" to refer to South Korean civilians. The UN also said that displaced civilians who want to repatriate would be allowed to do so.

- January 2, 20thConference
At the time, the UN military was holding more than 10 times the number of POWs the North Korean side was. During this conference, the UN proposed that the two sides exchange POWs and civilians one-for-one. 1. After the POW exchange, any POW remaining on one side are to be exchanged on a one-for-one basis with civilians and other persons desiring repatriation 2. Repatriation of civilians remaining in the territory of other side who desire repatriation 3. The meeting of International Red Cross representatives at the place of exchange to ensure that decisions to repatriate are not forced - January 3, 21st Conference
North Korea called the proposal to apply the principle of one-for-one exchanges "savage" and "embarrassing." The North also refused to accept supervision by the International Red Cross, calling it an intervention in its internal affairs.
- January 6, 24th Conference
The UN mentioned that the North Korea was holding more than 128,000 South Korean citizens somewhere in the country. It also made clear that its proposal to exchange POWs and civilians was aimed at ensuring repatriations went smoothly.
- January 10, 28th Conference
The UN used the phrase "taken away" for the first time and presented three reasons why North Korea opposed the UN proposal: 1) concern that the results of the meeting between International Red Cross representatives would lead to thousands of South Korean civilians choosing repatriation; 2) the desire to hide the fact that it had drafted South Korean civilians to build its economy and military; 3) agreeing to the proposal would weaken its military position.
- January 29, 47th Conference
However, when the armistice negotiations failed to move forward, the UN side signaled that it would yield on the one-for-one exchange issue at the 47th Conference on January 29, 1952.

- Armistice Agreement was signed on July 27
Abducted civilians were included in the sphere of "displaced civilians" as the North had desired, and Article 3, Clause 59, of the Armistice Agreement stated that the two sides would establish a "Committee for Assisting the Return of Displaced Civilians" tasked with helping civilians return home.

On the day the two sides agreed to repatriate displaced citizens, the UN side sent 37 North Korean civilians back North. However, North Korea argued that there were no South Korean civilians who wanted to return home and sent 19 non-Koreans back instead, including 11 Turks and eight white Russians. These exchanges were the last that occurred in regards to the South Korean civilian abductees issue.

2) Mediation by the International Red Cross

The South Korean Red Cross collecting reports on 7,034 abductees from their families during a two-month period from June 1956. These reports were then used to obtain information on 337 abductees in 1957, a development that has come to be the only success in the abductee issue. Alas, this entire process continued to use the term "displaced civilians" just like during the armistice negotiations, which effectively made any repatriations impossible. The events leading up to the 1957 success is shown in brief below.

May 22
South Korean Foreign Minister Byeon Yeong Tae met with representatives from the International Red Cross (IRC) to discuss the repatriation of civilians during the international conference held in Geneva for negotiations on the Korea and Vietnam questions. He officially requested that the IRC find out the whereabouts of civilians abducted during the Korean War.

- January 31
The IRC asked the South Korean and North Korean governments whether they would accept the intervention of the IRC in the issue. The South Korean government answered that it welcomed the involvement of the IRC. - September 8
Using Resolution 20 concerning the "Divided Family's Reunion Issue" adopted at the 1952 Red Cross International Conference in Canada as a basis, the South Korean Red Cross requested that the IRC find the whereabouts of and help repatriate 17,500 abductees and 2,200 POWs still being held in North Korea. - November 3
The IRC sent a message to North Korea that the South Korean government had given permission for an IRC team of representatives to conduct their activities in South Korea. The IRC reported, however, that there was no response from North Korea.

- May 9
After the visit of IRC representative William H Mitchell to South Korea, the South Korean Red Cross presented a three-phase plan for bringing about the repatriations along with a request for assistance to the IRC.
The three-phase plan included: 1) an investigation into the condition and whereabouts of abductees; 2) the creation of a list of survivors and the establishment of communication with their families; 3) the provision of assistance in helping abductees return home.
- June 15 - August 15
The South Korean Red Cross collected reports of abductions for a period of two months and created a list of 7,034 names. This number was drastically lower than the 84,532 that the South Korean government had come up with in 1953. The list used the term "displaced civilians" and not "abductees" due to fears of upsetting North Korea. In October, the South Korean Red Cross sent the list of 7,034 names to the IRC.

- January 31
The North Korean Red Cross proposed to the IRC that all the issues surrounding the question of regular exchanges of letters between divided families be discussed by Red Cross officials from both Koreas at a place the South Korean Red Cross desired.
- March 19
The South Korean Red Cross announced that the issue of confirming the health and whereabouts of displaced (abducted) civilians be done before anything else when the IRC team of representatives visit South Korea.
- November 7
At the 19th Red Cross International Conference in New Delhi, the North Korean Red Cross sent the names of 337 of survivors through the IRC to the South Korean Red Cross.
- December 3
The North Korean Red Cross requested that the South Korean Red Cross investigate the whereabouts of 14,132 civilians originally from North Korea who moved to the South. The South Korean Red Cross responds that 14,112 of these civilians left the North of their own free will and were not abducted. The use of the term "displaced civilians" allowed the North to inquire about the whereabouts of those civilians who had lived in the North but had later moved South of their own free volition. Ultimately, the repatriation issue concerning South Korean civilians was left unresolved.

3) Petitioning the UN

From 1955, the South Korean government requested several times in vain to receive help from the UN in repatriating Korean War abductees. On the 12th anniversary of the Korean War in 1964, the Chosun Ilbo began a nationwide "one-million signature campaign to repatriate abductees" with the South Korean Red Cross and government, and on December 11 the same year submitted the signatures along with a petition to the UN's Human Rights Committee. The head of the UN committee promised he would submit the signature list to the committee in March 1965, but this led to no progress on the issue.
Ultimately, the international community failed to hold North Korea responsible for its criminal abductions, and the country continued to abduct South Korean civilians even after the Korean War to move attention away from the abductions that had occurred during the conflict. The North Korean authorities became more or less specialists in abducting South Koreans and even foreign civilians.