Dear Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon:
My name is In-cheol Hwang, and I represent the Families of the KAL Passengers Abducted by North Korea. As I am writing you this letter with a heart anguished beyond repair, I am still desperately longing to see my father.
I truly miss him. Without any just cause, my father, Won Hwang, and another eleven innocent people have been forcibly detained in North Korea by its regime for the past 47 years. They remain unable to come home. I hereby bring this situation to your attention and plead with you on their behalf to bring them back home.
Mr. Secretary-General, I’m sure you have been on many airplanes before. You boarded each of those planes with a specific destination and a purpose to fulfill your duties. Mr. Secretary-General, with all due respect, please try to imagine my father’s situation. Please imagine what you would do if your plane was hijacked by a North Korean sleeper agent and you were forced onto North Korean territory against your will, if you were coerced to become a North Korean citizen without having a chance to ever speak your own mind, and if you were eternally split from the loving arms of your mother, wife, and children. Can you imagine being in such a horrible situation?
That is exactly what North Korea did to my father. By committing this unimaginably inhumane and atrocious act of mid-air piracy, the North Korean regime took away a beloved man from his whole family.
The photo above was taken only a few months before the hijacking. I am the boy in the picture, and the man holding me is my father. He adored me very much. His name is Won Hwang, and he was a 32 year-old TV producer at MBC when he was abducted.
When I was two years old, my father went on a business trip. He boarded his airplane at 12:15 pm on December 11, 1969. However, only 10 minutes after takeoff, the plane was hijacked by a North Korean sleeper agent on the plane and flown to North Korea. Because of scathing criticism by the international community, North Korea promised to return all 50 onboard (46 passengers and four flight crew) on February 4, 1970. However, North Korea broke its promise on February 14 when it repatriated only 39 of the abducted 50.
Through the returned passengers’ testimonies, it was discovered that the remaining 11 passengers were forcibly detained in North Korea. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) strongly urged North Korea to repatriate the remaining eleven as soon as possible, but North Korea claimed that they had chosen to become North Korean citizens “according to their own free will”. In response to such blatantly false statements, the ICRC made a proposal to the North through a third party country and a third party that they wished to confirm whether these victims were truly there on their own free-will. North Korea rejected this proposal.
The international community denounced the act of piracy committed by North Korea. In Resolution A17-8, the Seventeenth Session (Extraordinary) of the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) General Assembly urged North Korea to take measures to free the illegally seized airplane, flight crew, and passengers. Resolution 286 of the UN Security Council, was adopted on September 9, 1970, clearly demonstrates an appeal to all concerned parties for an immediate release of all passengers and flight crew who had been detained by aerial hijacking or interference with civil air travel.
At the 25th session of the UN General Assembly in 1970, member states unanimously adopted the Aerial Hijacking or Interference with Civil Air Travel (2645 XXV) resolution, condemning the illegal seizing of civilian aircraft. Yet, even after 47 years, my father is still detained in North Korea against his will.
The 39 returned passengers who walked across Freedom Bridge to come home have provided testimonies about my father when they were with him in the North. While they were held in North Korea, my father strongly requested the North Korean government honor humanitarian principles and protocols to return him home. When the abductees were all under coerced ideological education, he logically reputed every misperception about the Communist ideology. For that he was dragged away by soldiers to an unknown location for about two weeks. On January 1, 1970, as he was singing “Ga-Go-Pa”, a song about missing your hometown, he was again dragged away. No one has seen him since.
Mr. Secretary-General, In 2001, I watched the Third Meeting of the Separated Families on TV. Ms. Gyung-hee Sung, one of the flight attendants, was shown joyfully meeting her mother. Mr. Secretary-General, at that moment, I knew that I had to meet my father. However, I soon fell into a dark abyss of pain and despair. There was a huge wall of hurtful responses between me and my father. People said that the hijacking happened too long a time ago. It’s in the past and we are in the present. Why do we have to care all of a sudden? They also said that this is a sensitive issue concerning complex international politics. How could an individual like you address such a complicated problem? Their words mocked me.
I simply could not accept these responses, and I persisted to resolve this issue. My efforts seemed to be paying off. In June 2006, North Korea sent me a reply saying, “We cannot confirm whether Mr. Won Hwang is alive or dead.” Another message sent by North Korea to the ICRC in October 2011 read: “The ones who were not repatriated are staying in North Korea of their own free will, and it is not possible to confirm the life or death of those remaining.” In May 2012, North Korea told the UN’s Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID): “These people are not a case of enforced disappearance; therefore, this is not a humanitarian issue that concerns WGEID.” In addition, North Korea continues to send false statements saying, “Anyone saying otherwise are hostile forces against North Korea, plotting to cause conflict in inter-Korean relations.”
Mr. Secretary-General, I am not dejected by their lies; rather, I see an opportunity. North Korea’s deceitful response is the key to address the problem, and these false statements are precisely my father’s road home. How can it not be an enforced and involuntary disappearance when my father was hijacked with the plane by the North? Why is it that North Korea cannot confirm if he is alive or not? How can it not be a humanitarian concern when my father cannot express his wishes under duress? Why is North Korea not letting a third party contact him and confirm his free will? How can it be a hostile plot against North Korea when we are only looking for our families?
If the North is truly innocent in this matter, the regime should be able to exonerate itself before the world with clear evidence. Mr. Secretary-General, Please help us make a case so that North Korea would provide indisputable evidence for its own statements, and pressure the regime to act accordingly within humanitarian principles and protocols. The illegal act of hijacking civilian aircraft must be prosecuted and the abducted hostages must be returned without exception. This is the justice of our times. However, my family has become an exception, and we are left behind from the justice of our times. I cannot understand why only my family is made an exception from the rightful protocols required by UN Resolution 286 and humanitarian principles.
I found a sliver of hope in the report by the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. In 1983, North Korea voluntarily ratified Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft and Convention on Offenses and Certain Other Acts Committed On Board Aircraft. According to these respective agreements, the hijacked YS-11 on which my father boarded, is technically still in flight and on its journey. According to this international agreement, it is only just for the remaining KAL passengers, including my father, be immediately returned home.
Mr. Secretary-General, please help us bring my father home using humanitarian procedures and efforts. “Dad.” I have lived my whole life longing to call out to him. Forty-seven years have passed, yet I now long to call out even louder the word I never had a chance to say. Now, I want to bravely call out his name and to be embraced in his arms. Please, return my father!
I have enclosed the documents as evidence to prove that my father was on the hijacked airplane for his business trip. I also entrust my most prized possession – the old picture of my father with his son (and his niece). I extend my deepest gratitude to you. Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General.
Son of Won Hwang, 1969 KAL YS-11 hijacking victim