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Bush Praised for Comments on North Korea - 2002-02-23

The former head of the international aid group "Doctors without Borders" is defending President Bush's characterization of North Korea as an "evil regime." Alain Destexhe says such talk keeps North Korea's humanitarian crisis on the international agenda.

Alain Destexhe calls the situation in North Korea the world's worst humanitarian crisis, made even more severe by restrictions placed on aid workers by the North Korean government.

"I was there less than two years ago and saw Western volunteers working on food distribution, but forbidden to carry out any nutritional survey, working in water and sanitation, but forbidden to test the quality of the water they were supposed to improve," Dr. Destexhe says.

Dr. Destexhe was speaking to students at Beloit College in Wisconsin. He says he agrees with President Bush that the North Korean government is evil, but would like Mr. Bush to speak out against humanitarian conditions in that country more often.

"It should be explained to the American people the state of slavery in which the North Korean population lives," he says.

In his State of the Union address earlier this year, Mr. Bush referred to North Korea as being part of an "axis of evil:" nations that support terrorism. Dr. Destexhe says, while the United States is rightly concerned about future terrorist attacks, its leadership should keep in mind that people throughout the world are affected by terrorism, war, famine and other crises. He hopes the United States will not see the fight against terrorism only from the perspective of its own security.

"I fully support the fight against terrorism as the majority of Europeans do, but the concern is that the fight for democracy and human rights would be dropped in the cause of the fight against terrorists," he says.

Dr. Destexhe worries the United States will overlook human rights problems in Russia and China as it courts the support of those governments in its battle against terrorism.

Dr. Destexhe served for 12 years with Doctors without Borders. He is now a first deputy chair of the Belgian Senate's Foreign Affairs Committee. He says aid groups should be impartial in helping all victims in a war, famine or other crisis, but also willing to speak out against those who abuse human rights. He says the proposed International Criminal Court will be an ideal venue in which to bring human rights abusers to justice. "I really consider that the International Criminal Court is the most significant new international organization since the creation of the United Nations. It reflects both the decline of sovereignty and the growing concern for human rights," Dr. Destexhe says.

The International Criminal Court will come into existence as soon as 60 nations ratify the 1998 treaty that proposed it. The United States has signed that treaty, but has yet to ratify it. Critics of the court in the United States say they fear it will not offer Americans the same protections as the U.S. legal system. They are also concerned U.S. military personnel could be arrested by foreign governments and brought before the court for political reasons.