The former prime minister of Norway is among human rights activists calling on the international community to include human rights on the agenda of negotiations with North Korea. They are also urging the U.N. Security Council to push for access by international humantarian groups to Korea's starving population. VOA's Stephanie Ho reports from Washington.
Human rights is one issue that is not formally on the agenda for six party talks on North Korea's nuclear program. However, as the international community watches progress on a major North Korean nuclear agreement reached last month, Former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik says he thinks now is also the time to bring up human rights.
"I think we should use that opportunity to raise the human rights issue, both in the working groups under the six party talks and in the U.N," said Kjell Magne Bondevik. "And I once more want to emphasize, what is affecting the people of North Korea in their daily lives is not the nuclear issue. It is the human rights abuses that affect them every day."
He rejected the argument that raising North Korea's human rights violations would hamper efforts to resolve the nuclear issue.
"Last October, North Korea had a nuclear test, despite the [fact that the] world community was so silent about human rights abuses," he said. "So, I don't believe in that argument, that we should not raise the human rights issue in order to try to resolve the nuclear issue. Maybe it's opposite."
Bondevik also raised concern that another famine in North Korea is likely. He said the U.N. World Food Program has less than 20 percent of its planned $102 million for the country, and will run out of money by June.
Meanwhile, the U.N. Development Program has halted all its operations in the impoverished country, following accusations that hard currency was being funneled to North Korea's leaders. Pyongyang denies the charges.
The call for a U.N. resolution on human rights in North Korea came in a recent report called "Failure to Protect," which was commissioned by Bondevik, Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel and Vaclav Havel, former president of the Czech Republic.
Jared Genser, of DLA Piper, the law firm that helped prepare the report, said it calls for a non-punitive resolution because it believes the focus should be on helping the North Korean people, not criticizing Kim Jong Il and his leadership.
"I think as a first priority, we really need to get into ameliorating the suffering of the North Korean people, which is massive and profound, and I think it's going to be hard enough to do that," said Jared Genser.
Genser added that Havel has met individually with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to discuss the human rights situation in North Korea.