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Promoting Rights In North Korea Requires Action

Promoting Human Rights in North Korea Requires Attention, Action

Advancing the human rights of the North Korean people will require the free nations of the world to continue taking an interest in promoting those rights, says Christian Whiton, the president's deputy special envoy for human rights in North Korea.

In an address to the Transatlantic Institute in Brussels, Belgium, November 6, Whiton catalogued abuses that often go unnoticed by the world due to North Korea's isolation and asked countries to support relevant U.N. resolutions, provide assistance to North Korean refugees and support radio broadcasts of accurate information.

"With North Korea," he said, "there is so much attention paid to nuclear issue that often human rights gets only a passing mention. Many people are generally aware that North Korea is a closed-off nation where human rights are abused systematically. But what exactly are we dealing with?"

Whiton said the latest State Department human rights report documents the fact that the Pyongyang regime engages in extrajudicial killings and is responsible for disappearances and arbitrary detention. "Prisoners in North Korea face life-threatening conditions, torture, forced abortions and infanticide," he said. "There is a complete denial of fair trial, freedom of speech, press, and assembly. The practice of faith and religious belief is suppressed. There is no freedom of movement or emigration. Prisoners are sentenced to death for such ill-defined offenses as 'ideological divergence,' 'opposing socialism,' and 'counterrevolutionary crimes,'" Whiton said.

As many as 200,000 North Koreans are detained in political concentration camps, Whiton said. "Some people are there for no reason other than being related to someone accused of disloyalty. Many of these prisoners are not expected to survive their internment."

According everyone, inalienable human rights "is a worthy end in and of itself," Whiton said, but it also enhances regional security. "Even repressive regimes without stated ambitions of conquest and expansion cause problems for their neighbors. For example, the illegitimate, unelected junta that runs Burma, in addition to creating an economic and humanitarian black hole in the heart of Southeast Asia, has caused a refugee crisis that puts serious strains on its neighbors," he said.

Whiton urged all nations to do more than simply talk about human rights concerns. He encouraged countries to acknowledge the existence of serious abuses by backing U.N. resolutions that condemn such abuses.

"These resolutions have passed with good margins in years past, and we hope to see support grow again this year," he said.

Whiton also asked neighboring countries, particularly China, to assist North Korean refugees.

"Many thousands of North Koreans have fled to China, especially beginning after a famine in the mid-90s, which is believed to have killed 1-2 million North Koreans," Whiton said. "[The refugees] are unable to appeal to authorities in China and some of the other countries where they are present -- making them susceptible to exploitation, such as being trafficked into servitude, or blackmailed."

Whiton also recommended radio broadcasts as the most promising method for providing accurate information to the people of North Korea.

"Veterans of repressive regimes in Eastern Europe and elsewhere have spoken of the positive effect that accurate information from the free world had on them," he said. "One consequence of the regime's control of information and improbable message is that it takes but a glimpse of the outside world and reality to open eyes to the truth about North Korea."


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