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S. Korea Plans to Support UN Resolution on N. Korea Human Rights Abuses


Officials in the government of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak say they will back a United Nations resolution critical of human rights abuses in North Korea. The move is a significant departure from the previous South Korean administration, which abstained from several similar resolutions, citing the sensitivity of the North-South relationship. VOA Seoul Correspondent Kurt Achin reports.

South Korean Foreign Ministry officials confirmed Wednesday Seoul will support the measure, expected to come to a vote in the United Nations Human Rights Council, later this week.

The resolution is expected to anger North Korea by criticizing perceived widespread human rights abuses and calling on Pyongyang to improve the situation as soon as possible. As with several similar measures in previous years, it is based on the reporting of U.N.-appointed special researcher Vitit Muntabhorn, a Thai legal scholar.

Vitit's latest report, delivered last month, accuses North Korea of imprisoning entire North Korean families under "appalling" conditions. It also says the North makes "extensive use of torture and public executions."

Kang Suk-hee, secretary for human rights at the South Korean Foreign Ministry, says Seoul approves of Vitit's work.

He says one of the reasons South Korea favors the measure is because it will reappoint Vitit for another one-year term.

North Korea has always denied having any human rights problems, whatsoever. The North's foreign ministry has denounced Vitit as "a mouthpiece for hostile forces" who seek to disrupt North Korea's government, "using human rights as an excuse."

Recently-inaugurated South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has adopted a far more robust public stance on North Korean human rights than his predecessor, Roh Moo-hyun. Mr. Roh's government avoided public criticism of North Korea at all costs, seeking instead to change the North through peaceful engagement.

Mr. Roh's administration abstained from all but one of the previous U.N. human rights resolutions on North Korea. Seoul backed a 2006 version of the measure, voted on just weeks after North Korea tested a nuclear weapon.

Human rights groups criticized that move, saying it politicized South Korea's participation in the vote. Kay Seok, a Seoul-based representative of Human Rights Watch, says South Korea is finally casting its vote the way it should, on the merits of the resolution, itself.

"We've been saying, all along, that South Korea should vote for the human rights resolution against North Korea because it is the right thing to do. It's about the universal value of human rights," said Seok.

The North Korea human rights measure is expected to pass the council this week. It would then be submitted to the broader U.N. General Assembly.

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