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Supervisor Elham AbolFateh
Editor in Chief Mohamed Wadie

Revealing the True Colors of an Illegitimate State by North Korea’s Trash Balloons


Honorary Representative of Lawyers for Human Rights and Unification of Korea, Kim Tae-hun

Mon 08 Jul 2024 | 03:32 PM
H-Tayea

North Korea, over seven occasions from May 28 to June 27 released around 2,500 trash-laden balloons en masse into the ROK, causing damage in some areas, including vehicle damage. These large balloons, carrying garbage such as cigarette buds, waste paper, plastic and manure, were sent south in large quantities. In addition, North Korea carried out GPS jamming attacks aimed at the south in the areas around the Northern Limit Line (NLL) in the West Sea for five consecutive days from May 29 to June 2.

These acts were committed in retaliation for North Korean human rights organizations sending leaflets into North Korea. Kim Yo-jong warned on the May 29th May, saying, “they will have to keep picking up (the trash balloons)”, and threatened, “we will response with dozens of times the amount of waste the South Koreans send us.” These actions can only be described as a petty and low-grade response unimaginable for a normal country. The various types of garbage in the waste balloons sent south under Kim Yo-jong’s orders reflect the level of the North Korean regime. The release of trash balloons is an act below common decency that only draws international ridicule and isolation, starkly demonstrating that the North Korean regime is an illegal violent group that cannot be considered a legitimate state.

North Korea’s dispersal of trash balloons toward the south is a clear violation of the armistice agreement. On May 30th, the United Nations Command stated via Facebook, “sending large number of balloons carrying waste that could harm local residents constitutes a violation of the armistice agreement. We are conducting an official investigation into this matter.” The defense ministers of the ROK and US also reaffirmed at the 21st Asia Security Summit (Shangri-La Dialogue) in Singapore on June 2nd that North Korea’s release of trash balloons amounts to a breach of the armistice agreement.

The fact that the leaflets sent by North Korean human rights organizations contain daily necessities, medicines, US dollars, and other goods that are genuinely helpful to the North Korean people makes this recent act even more ludicrous. North Korea’s irrational act of sending trash balloons stems from Kim Jong-un perceiving attempts by international community to introduce information into North Korea, such as through leaflets, as a serious threat to the regime. However, efforts like distributing leaflets align with the recommendations of the UN COI, which has highlighted the mandate of international community to provide information to the North Korean people.

Many North Korea experts share the common opinion that there are signs of external information being introduced through various channels in North Korea, and there is also a budding interest in the South Korean culture. This trends is probably the reason why North Korea, one of the most closed-off country in the world, is seeing the leaflets sent by North Korean human rights organizations as a threat to Kim’s authoritarian regime. Additionally, North Korea has enacted the Reactionary Ideology and Culture Rejection Law (2020), the Youth Education Guarantee Law (2021), and Pyongyang Cultural Language Protection Law (2023) to further control and punish freedom of expression and access to information among its people, a fact that the international community should be vigilant about.

Until now, North Korea has vehemently rejected international demands to improve the human rights situation, claiming that the rights of its people are purely internal matters and sovereign rights of the state, dismissing international calls for human rights improvements as politically motivated interference. However, human rights are a matter of universal concern, so the international community must continue to discuss and address North Korean human rights issues actively in an effort to better the North Korean people’s quality of life and promote their freedom. The entire international community, including the permanent members of the UN Security Council, must raise their voices against human rights abuses and play a substantial role in holding North Korea accountable to stop Kim’s regime from oppressing its people and engaging in nuclear and missile provocations.

1. Profile

Kim Tae-Hoon previously served as a presiding judge of Seoul District Court, a chief of the Special Committee on North Korea within National Human Rights Commission of Korea. He was a member of the Korean War Abductees Investigation Committee attached to the former Prime Minister’s office, the Chairman of the North Korean Human Rights Committee, and the Chairman of the Research Committee for Reunification at the Korean Bar Association. He received the Human Rights Award at the 2013 Korea National Assembly Human Rights Forum.

He currently the honorary chairman of the Lawyers for Human Rights and Unification of Korea (Hanbyun), and leads North Korean Human Rights Corporation(NKHRC), and People for Successful COrean REunification(PSCORE). Kim Tae-Hoon previously served as a presiding judge of Seoul District Court, a chief of the Special Committee on North Korea.