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Human Rights Groups Aim to Raise Profile of N. Korean Abuses at Geneva Meeting


Several groups in South Korea are getting ready to go to Switzerland for the annual meeting of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. They hope to raise international pressure on North Korea over its alleged abuses of human rights.

This year, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights will review a special report on the North Korean human rights situation.

The 53-nation body last year appointed Thai law Professor Vitit Muntharborn to be the U.N. Special Rapporteur on North Korean human rights. During the commission's meeting, which opened Monday and runs through April 22, he will submit a report accusing North Korea's communist government of widespread and "egregious" abuses. The report includes allegations of severe food deprivation, imprisonment without trial, torture, and infanticide.

Pyongyang has never allowed Professor Vitit to visit North Korea, and has only allowed him one meeting with North Korean diplomats. His report is based on extensive interviews with North Korean defectors and aid groups such as the Citizens' Coalition for North Korean Human Rights.

Kim Young-Ja is the secretary-general of the coalition, based in Seoul.

She says her group is one of several planning to attend the Geneva meeting to push the Human Rights Commission on North Korea.

Ms. Kim and other activists say the issue of North Korean human rights abuses has only recently come before the United Nations, even though Pyongyang has been accused of violating human rights for decades.

The Human Rights Commission did not directly address the issue until April 2003, when it passed a resolution calling for Pyongyang to cooperate with the international community on resolving allegations of abuse.

It passed a similar resolution last year, authorizing the Special Rapporteur. This year, says Ms. Kim, there is a chance for an even stronger third resolution.

Ms. Kim says she hopes this year's resolution will re-appoint Professor Vitit and appeal to North Korea to give him access to the country.

Human rights groups say that progress in the United Nations is slow on North Korea, and for now, mainly symbolic. They hope their efforts in Geneva will help forge a consensus that translates into more concrete forms of pressure on North Korea in the future.

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