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North Korea Accused of World's Worst Human Rights Record

  • Lisa Schlein

Human Rights campaigners say North Korea has the world's worst human rights record. The campaigners are urging the UN Human Rights Commission to condemn North Korea for gross violations of human rights including abductions, torture, arbitrary arrest, summary and extra-judicial executions.

Kim Young-soon says in 1970 she and seven members of her family were sent to a North Korean political prison camp for an unspecified crime by her husband.

"My parents and my four children - the youngest was one and a half years old - and we had to spend eight years in the prison camp," she said. "My parents, both of them died of malnutrition and one son died because he was drowned. And, one other son in 1988, he tried to defect to China, but he was put into a political prison camp and tried to escape and he got executed.

Ms. Young-Soon says she does not know whether her husband is dead or alive. She says she eventually fled North Korea and arrived in South Korea in November 2003.

The UN special human rights investigator for North Korea, Vitit Muntarbhorn, says many people who flee to China to escape hunger or persecution are forcibly returned. He notes that in both instances, the refugees are severely punished because North Korea's government considers such flight to be a crime.

"So, the hunger cases are not simple hunger cases," he said. "They are hunger cases linked with the possibility or potential threat of persecution upon return due to the sanction waiting for them for having left without a visa from the country of origin."

Bill Rammel is the British official in charge of North Korean affairs at the Foreign Office. He says North Korea should be engaged in a constructive dialogue about its human rights record along with the talks on Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program. But, he warns, if dialogue does not work, the international community will have to consider tougher options, including sanctions.

"North Korea really does need to face up to the fact that it is completely and utterly isolated," said Mr. Rammel. "North Korea always tries to present this issue as a disagreement between itself and the United States of America. It is far larger and far more fundamental than that. The whole of the international community has genuine concerns about what is happening in North Korea and North Korea has got to respond."

Mr. Rammel says a European Union-sponsored resolution to condemn North Korea for gross human rights violations has received broad support and is expected to be adopted by the U.N. Human Rights Commission.

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