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UN official on Pyongyang leaving empty-handed

Jan 16,2010
Vitit Muntarbhorn
After six years as the United Nations special rapporteur on North Korean human rights, Vitit Muntarbhorn will walk away with zero trips to North Korea, worse human rights violations there than in the past, and no guarantee that the North will ever accept international recommendations.

Wrapping up his final trip to South Korea in a UN capacity, Muntarbhorn said in a press conference in Seoul yesterday that the current situation in the North is “extremely grave” and that it has become worse recently.

Muntarbhorn has noted some legal adjustments in North Korea but there have been “very serious violations and transgressions” in the past year.

“I’ve noticed stricter punishments for people leaving the country [North Korea]. It’s a worrying state of affairs,” he said.

Muntarbhorn, a law professor in Bangkok, arrived in Seoul Monday to research an upcoming report on the North Korean human rights situation. His six-year tenure ends this June.

“I’ve always tried to seek access [to the North] but have been rejected,” Muntarbhorn said. “I was told [early in my term] that I would not be met as the rapporteur. They were waiting to see what I’d do and since then, they’ve declined to meet me.”

Instead, he has met North Korean refugees in the South. His interviews with the refugees confirmed his belief that asylum seekers must receive “humane treatment ... on the basis of international standards” and that “asylum-seekers should not be pushed back to dangers,” he said.

Muntarbhorn also said the six-party talks on denuclearization would be a “welcome” proposition in improving human rights in the North. Resumption of the talks would lead to “substantive discourse and convergent action, contributing to the space for human rights in the DPRK [North Korea],” he added.

But Muntarbhorn qualified his remarks by saying the talks by nature are about denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

“Because of the delicate nature of the talks, they shouldn’t be overburdened with two major issues,” he said. “But various human rights elements have gradually entered the process through various bilateral tracks. If they resume, the six-party talks will lend themselves constructively to the discussion of human rights.”

Muntarbhorn said there are various ways to influence the North to implement human rights more effectively.

“I’d like to see the total UN system operational, more opportunities for other organs that haven’t dealt with human rights to take up the issue more concretely,” he said.



By Yoo Jee-ho [jeeho@joongang.co.kr]



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