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UN Report on North Korean Human Rights Cites 'Egregious' Situation

The United Nations is circulating a draft of its first report on the human rights situation in North Korea. The draft includes sweeping recommendations for changes in North Korea, and in the way China treats refugees from that country.

The draft report says there have been some "constructive developments" regarding human rights in North Korea, but then cites a long list of "discrepancies and transgressions" and calls some of these "egregious."

It firmly rejects Pyongyang's principle of "collective punishment," under which severe punishments are dealt to the entire family of accused political criminals.

It criticizes the lack of due process or legal recourse for accused criminals, and cites wide-ranging allegations of torture and forced labor. It suggests that North Korea's isolation and crippled economy are depriving people of their basic right to food.

The draft also implicitly criticizes China, where some 100,000 North Korean refugees are thought to be hiding. China calls such people economic migrants and repatriates those it catches back to North Korea. The report says they should be treated as refugees, because even if they left home for economic reasons, they face political persecution if they return.

Joanna Hosaniak works for the Citizen's Alliance for North Korean Human Rights, based in the South Korean capital, Seoul. She welcomes the report's description of asylum seekers in China as "refugees," and says the Chinese authorities should treat them accordingly.

"There should be some temporary shelter created for the refugees," said Ms. Hosaniak. "And there should be some safe route for these people, to eliminate this huge network of human trafficking."

The draft report was prepared by Thai legal scholar Vitit Muntarbhorn, who was named U.N. Special Rapporteur for North Korean Human Rights last August.

Authorities in Pyongyang did not permit Professor Vitit to visit North Korea. His report is based on testimony from both governmental and non-governmental sources, including the Citizen's Alliance.

The report also addresses the dispute between North Korea and Japan over Japanese citizens abducted by the North during the Cold War. It urges Pyongyang to resolve the issue, which is holding up the establishment of formal relations between the two countries. And it calls for progress in reuniting Korean families separated during the Korean War of the 1950s.

The U.N. Commission for Human Rights plans to discuss the report at its annual meeting in Geneva, beginning March 14.