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U.N. report breaks silence on N. Korean human rights issue

U.N. report breaks silence on N. Korean human rights issue

Posted May. 15, 2014 08:41,   


○ Experts urge international community to act

Sonja Biserko, a member of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry (COI) who adopted a COI report on the human rights situation in North Korea and recommendations for improvement in March, urged the U.N. to put the North Korean human rights issue on agendas to prompt the international community to act. The COI report adopted on May 6 includes 268 recommendations for improving the human rights situation in North Korea, including the abolishment of concentration camps for political prisoners and a ban on public executions.

Matthias Nass, a journalist at the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit, asked why the international community has remained silent for the last several decades despite the knowledge of North Korea`s human rights violations that has gone beyond imagination. Klaus Hoffmann-Holland, a professor of law at Free University of Berlin said that it had been hard to move people`s heart due to a lack of photographs and other information on the North`s human rights violations, adding that the COI report specified details about the situation at a time of a lack of visual and textual materials on the issue.

Hong Sun-pil, a professor of law at Yonsei University, said that the South Korean government has had the dilemma of putting pressure on the North on one hand while appeasing it on the other hand. "We should approach the North Korea human rights issue consistently not from political perspectives but as an issue regarding human dignity."

Yoon Nam-geun, a professor of law at Korea University and chair the Special Committee for North Korea Human Rights of the National Human Rights Commission of (South) Korea, noted that there have been many people who questioned the existence of concentration camps for political prisoners in North Korea. "The U.N. report is meaningful at least in that nobody can deny the issue."

○ Follow-up measures and China`s change

The COI`s recommendation that North Korea`s crimes against humanity be taken to the International Criminal Court (ICC) became the issue for debates. Holland said that the only way to do so is the U.N. Security Council`s unanimous vote on the recommendation. However, he said, China`s disagreement would make it impossible to take the issue to the ICC. It is important for the international community to put pressure on China, which exercises great influences on Pyongyang, to have interest in the North Korean human rights issue.

Markus Lohning, a former commissioner for human rights policy of the German federal government, said that as China does not have any concentration camp for political prisoners, the international community should urge Beijing to at least get rid of its concentration camps. Beate Rudolf, chairperson of the German Institute for Human Rights, said that her country allows even illegal immigrants to send their children to school and guarantee them basic health services, urging China to stop forcefully repatriating North Korean escapees and guarantee their basic rights under the Geneva Convention.

Participants in the forum said that the COI report should not end up being just "naming and shaming" North Korea for its human rights crimes but should result in the implementation of follow-up measures. Some suggested that Germany`s experiences in human rights protection during the country`s division should be revived.

Richard Schroeder, a former floor leader of the Socialist Democratic Party of East Germany, said that the West German government exchanged 35,000 political prisoners from East Germany with money. "If you can`t remove a dictator, you should conduct business negotiations," he said.

Lee Eun-joo, a professor at Free University of Berlin said, "About 2,000 North Korean defectors to South Korea have sought asylums in third countries due to failure to settle in the South. It is time that Seoul reviewed its system for North Korean defectors."