The ROK Army has given its explanation for why its soldiers shot a would-be South-to-North defector, and that explanation is completely unsatisfactory:
Asked if the soldiers’ response was excessive, Brigadier General Cho Jong-sul at the briefing said: “It was legitimate. In a combat area like this, anyone who ignores our soldiers’ repeated warnings and tries to run away to North Korea will get shot.”
The ministry said Mr. Nam was carrying a South Korean passport, which showed that he had been deported from Japan in June after his attempt to seek a status of political refugee there failed. [WSJ, Korea Real Time]
What’s completely missing from this answer is any justification for the use of deadly force, especially against someone who was obviously too unstable to be carrying anything of intelligence value. (Unstable people are often those who test the limits of society’s tolerance of individual freedom, and if you doubt me, just google “9/11 truth.”)
Certainly Nam Yong-Ho could have found a better place and time to flee than in the middle of a tense combat zone surrounded by land mines, but in different circumstances, his choice might have been treated as a universal right, in the same way that 25,000 North Koreans exercised their universal right to flee South (a choice that countless others died trying to make).
By swimming to North Korea, Nam wasn’t harming anyone but himself–in fact, one could argue that his departure might well have done South Korea more good than harm. Freedom of movement is supposed to be one of the things that distinguishes South Korea from North Korea. Democracies don’t shoot their own people for trying to leave.