U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has publicly slammed North Korea's human rights record and called on the reclusive state to close its labor camps.
At a ministers' meeting Tuesday on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Kerry stressed the international community can no longer ignore the situation in the North given the findings of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea (COI).
"So we say to the North Korean government, all of us here today, you should close those camps,” said Kerry. "You should shut this evil system down. As the Commission of Inquiry report concludes, the gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world."
The new U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid Al-Hussein, said the COI report served as a turning point in the international community’s efforts to solve human rights abuses in North Korea. He urged all U.N. member countries to press for accountability for human rights aggressors in North Korea.
Shin Dong Hyuk, who was born in Camp 14, a North Korean gulag, and witnessed the public execution of his mother and brother in the North, was invited to speak at the ministerial-level conference, which also included the foreign ministers of Japan and South Korea.
"I sincerely appeal to you - please save our brothers and sisters who are suffering without freedom in North Korea,” said Shin.
South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said the fact that a ministerial-level meeting focused solely on North Korean human rights is taking place means it has become an important international issue.
It is the first time foreign ministers attending the U.N. General Assembly have held a separate conference to discuss the North Korean human rights situation.
The Commission of Inquiry report, released earlier this year, listed rights abuses in North Korea including enslavement, torture and murder that it says amount to crimes against humanity.
Pyongyang had repeatedly rejected the U.N. report, saying it is politicized and "full of fabrications." North Korea has released its own report, saying it has "the world's most advantageous human rights system."
Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report, which was produced in collaboration with the VOA Korean service.